Dawid Malan has no doubts about where his responsibilities lie in the club versus country conundrum he faces at the start of the 2019 domestic season.
It is a period which will effectively become a shoot-out between aspirants for a top-three England position in this summer’s Ashes but, unlike rival county captain James Vince, who is reverting to the role of opening batsman for Hampshire in his quest to earn a Test recall, Malan is not shifting.
‘I don’t want to be seen as a captain who bats himself where he needs to bat to play for England,’ said the Middlesex star, 31. ‘It doesn’t send the right message to the team if it suddenly becomes about me having to bat at three because there is a No 3 spot for England. I don’t think that would be right.
Dawid Malan says he will not change his place in the Middlesex batting order
‘If I was to get the call from England and they were to speak to me, Angus Fraser (Middlesex managing director) and Stuart Law (new coach) and say ‘we would like Dawid to bat at three,’ then I would move to three.
‘I actually had my best season for Middlesex batting at three but I am comfortable batting at three, four, five, six — I play the same way, so it doesn’t make a difference to me.
‘Generally, if you play well you are going to score runs and if you don’t you’re not going to get runs, so for me wherever I bat for Middlesex it’s about scoring as heavily as possible for the team.’
Malan was England’s leading run scorer in the last Ashes series with 383 at an average of 42.55 but was discarded last August and has become a face in a crowd of county batsmen vying for recognition at a time when the places currently held by Rory Burns, Keaton Jennings and Joe Denly remain up for grabs.
‘My ambition is still to play for England but I am not going to look at that,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘At times last year I got carried away with what I wanted to do when I played for England. I was turning up for county games and trying things that myself, Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe were talking about: triggers, no triggers, taps, no taps.
Malan is competing to secure the No 3 role in the England batting ahead of the Ashes series
‘It got me into a spiral of looking too far ahead rather than concentrating on scoring runs in every innings no matter who I was playing for. It’s about trying to keep the eye on the ball at Middlesex, and if I have a good season and score enough runs, then hopefully I get looked at for internationals.’
The regret is that he provided those in positions of power a reason to drop him, chiefly by a failure to capitalise on his position of strength in Perth 16 months ago.
Australia did not look like getting him out until he skewed an innocuous delivery from Nathan Lyon to backward point to bring an innings of 140, and a double century stand with Jonny Bairstow, to an end.
‘I think I left a few runs out there. I was playing as well as I’d ever played,’ he recalled. ‘Then in the next Test on the flattest wicket on earth in Melbourne, I inside-edged one, and was outside the line, and didn’t take the review.
‘The old saying is “You’ve never got enough”. That proves it. A double hundred and I would probably still be backed.’
Instead, after three matches of low yield versus Pakistan and India, he found himself on the outside of the team and with Ed Smith, the national selector, suggesting he might be a better player in foreign conditions.
‘I’m definitely not,’ he insisted. ‘It obviously hurt me at the time to suddenly be pigeonholed as someone who could only play outside of England. It didn’t really make sense to me and after that I had a nice long chat with him. He clarified a few things. I now know what he meant. He was saying that at the time I hadn’t played as well in England as overseas and for me to play better in England I had to change one or two things.
‘I’ve played my whole career here and scored over 10,000 runs in first-class cricket so I don’t think it is anything to do with the conditions. Whether I was happy with the amount of opportunities I was given, I was given five opportunities to go and score runs. I didn’t score as many runs as I should have in those five innings.
Malan was England’s leading run scorer in the last Ashes series with an average of 42.55
‘I wouldn’t say I am a victim because if I’d scored runs I would still be there. It’s as simple as that. If you score runs then there is no reason for people to drop you. You can moan all you want — ultimately if you score the runs you’re going to be playing.’
Those words do not always ring true, though, as Malan’s Twenty20 international career of four 50s in five appearances attest. Recalled, he remained on the bench for the 3-0 win over West Indies earlier this month.
‘It was frustrating not playing, especially in the dead-rubber last game, as I’d been pulled out of a Twenty20 tournament (the Pakistan Super League). But it’s the way it goes sometimes.
‘Jos Buttler is definitely the best white-ball cricketer England have got and him moving up to open the batting hasn’t helped my cause. You have to say it was a fantastic decision but that’s pushed me one further down the pecking order.
‘It’s no one’s right to play for England, it’s an honour, and you have to make sure you’re scoring runs so when someone does get injured, or rested, or loses form, you’re in position to take advantage.’
His immediate target, in tandem with Law, is to reinvigorate a Middlesex team that has badly under-performed since winning the County Championship title in 2016.
‘As a captain, I would not want to go into any season not trying to win all three competitions. We know that’s tough to do but ultimately with the players we have, if everyone stays fit, there shouldn’t be a reason why we don’t get promoted. We are too good not to win four-day games of cricket consistently.
‘Every year brings its new challenges and excitement in terms of what the season can hold.’
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