Why Dawid Malan’s selection for England Lions could derail Middlesex’s cup chances
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Not for the first time, Middlesex’s prospects of progress in both limited-overs cup competitions appear to be hanging in the balance.
Successive defeats in the NatWest T20 Blast, to Sussex and Glamorgan, mean Dawid Malan’s side will probably need to win three, perhaps four, of their five remaining South Group fixtures to reach the quarter-finals.
Middlesex appear better placed in the Royal London One-Day Cup – which resumes at the end of next week – having so far registered two wins and two losses, with three of their last four fixtures to be played at Lord’s.
Nevertheless, the equation is broadly similar to its T20 equivalent in that three more victories are likely to be required if Middlesex are to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time. So there is little margin for error.
All too frequently in previous years, in both the 50-over tournament and its 40-over predecessor, Middlesex have paid dearly for a single below-par performance that ultimately ended their chances.
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Unfortunately, this summer, their hopes have already been damaged by the ECB and their bizarre decision to appoint Malan as captain of the England Lions side for the upcoming tri-series against the second-string representatives of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
That means Middlesex’s T20 skipper – and arguably their best batsman across all formats – will miss next week’s crucial Blast fixtures against Surrey and Hampshire.
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The left-hander will also be unavailable for Middlesex’s 50-over game against Kent – the side just above them in the table on net run-rate and therefore one they desperately need to overtake.
National selector James Whitaker spoke of the need to be “respectful” to counties after the squad was announced – yet suspicion must be growing that the ECB are anything but when it comes to Malan.
Only last week, the Middlesex batsman missed his side’s vital County Championship clash against Yorkshire due to his selection for England’s T20 squad against Sri Lanka.
The call-up was richly deserved – yet the decision to omit Malan from the final XI was puzzling. Why, after all, was he there for a one-off match if not to make his England debut?
At least the player gained the kudos of being part of the senior national squad – as will team-mate Toby Roland-Jones, whether or not he actually makes the cut for the first Test against Pakistan.
On the other hand, while appearing for the Lions can be a valuable development step for a player in his early 20s – which the majority of the squad are – that is not the case for an experienced batsman who turns 29 later this year.
Andy Flower, who is coaching the Lions squad, said of Malan: “We’ve been getting really good reports about the way he’s been captaining the Middlesex T20 side from Gus Fraser and others.
“It seems to have been affecting him in a positive way, so it’s good to give him this opportunity.”
Surely it could be said that Malan’s long-term captaincy credentials would be better strengthened by staying at Middlesex and leading them to a rare last-eight appearance in a white-ball tournament.
The whole issue has an uneasy echo of last season, when Eoin Morgan, then Middlesex’s one-day captain, dropped out of the Royal London Cup midway through the group stage.
Morgan’s decision to take a break due to fatigue was largely influenced by his England commitments, at a time when he wasn’t even the holder of an ECB central contract.
Yet it was Middlesex who suffered from his absence, with inexperienced batsmen unable to plug the gap, and the team slid out of the competition after failing to chase down Nottinghamshire’s total.
There must be a genuine concern that history could be repeated over the coming weeks. But this time it is hard to see how anyone will actually benefit.