Dawid Malan: ‘Milky Way Boss’ removes any lingering doubt over England place by shining in South Africa

Will Macpherson
·4-min read
<p>Dawid Malan poses with his player of the match and player of the series trophies in Cape Town</p> (Getty Images)

Dawid Malan poses with his player of the match and player of the series trophies in Cape Town

(Getty Images)

Dawid Malan flies to Australia on Thursday for his next T20 adventure - a Big Bash debut with Hobart Hurricanes that comes after a very productive trip home to South Africa’s Western Cape.

The peculiarities of sport in the era of bio-secure bubbles means that Malan has not been able to see his parents, Dawid Sr and Janet, and they have had to settle for watching him bat from their home in Paarl, not far from Boland Park and down the road from Newlands.

Malan won England a match at each of those grounds on a short tour that has enhanced his reputation, removed any lingering doubt about his place in the side and strengthened his position atop of the ICC’s T20 batting rankings. Indeed, he has now gone where no batsman has before by clocking up 915 ranking points -15 more than anyone ever - and a 44-point lead over second-placed Babar Azam.

By comparison, the all-time top scorers in Tests and ODIs are Don Bradman and Viv Richards. We know full well that the rankings are imperfect – Jos Buttler, even after his innings on Tuesday, is only in 21st position. But Malan’s numbers are a phenomenon. Mark Wood said on Wednesday morning that a stat was read out in the changing room after his 99 not out - a 10th score of more than 50 in T20 internationals.

He reached 10 in just 19 innings - a record taken from one Chris Gayle, who got there in 25. Virat Kohli took 29 and Babar 30.

“Chris Gayle calls himself the Universe Boss so we’ve started calling Mala the Milky Way Boss,” joked Wood.

It was that innings that changed perceptions of Malan. We knew he could master a low chase by going through the gears, as he did in Paarl on Sunday (even if that was mighty impressive on a tricky pitch), now he has started fast and never let up. Particularly striking was his take down of Tabraiz Shamsi’s wrist-spin, with 38 runs coming from 14 balls in all sorts of areas.

The sense with Malan has been that his numbers will, eventually, level out as the high-risk approach of starting slowly – which is not an intentional tactic - catches up. But when does a sample size cease to be seen as small? He now averages more than 53 and strikes at 149.5. He reaches 50 more often than not. His strike-rate ends up above 135 more often than not. Malan has skill, but game-smarts too.

Malan was filled with belief that he belonged at this level when Eoin Morgan told him that he would play all six T20s against Pakistan and Australia in the summer, because his record has earned him the right. The runs have not let up.

<p>Malan’s tour of South Africa saw him strengthen his position at the summit of the ICC’s T20 batting rankings</p>Getty Images

Malan’s tour of South Africa saw him strengthen his position at the summit of the ICC’s T20 batting rankings

Getty Images

Strangely, the innings in which Malan fell one short of a century might just have advanced his standing in England’s setup more than the ton he made in New Zealand last year. Then, Morgan was overtly critical of his failure to run a bye off the final ball of the innings. Malan put that down to doziness, and used the same excuse for this time, when he accepted a single for the win when two was required for a ton. But a lack of awareness of his personal score will go down well with Morgan.

The upshot is that Malan’s position has never been more certain in a T20 side that is taking shape by confirming things we knew, rather than teaching us new things. Clearly, the bowling attack still requires work. Tom Curran had a poor series. As a bowler of variations, his is a high-risk art.

It is also a middle ground between a second spinner, like Moeen Ali, or another high-pace option like Wood. Curran has plenty to do to prove the middle ground is the right place to be.

The other man with a bit to prove remains Jason Roy. Indeed, Roy’s struggles make Malan’s runs even more impressive; the No3 never came in after a flying start. Roy did not look as out of nick, mentally or physically, as he did during his summer struggles, but the runs never quite came.

<p>Like Tom Curran, Jason Roy still has a point to prove for England</p>Getty Images

Like Tom Curran, Jason Roy still has a point to prove for England

Getty Images

Even with plenty of credit in the bank, given the queue of those waiting to open, starting with Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes, those runs will have to come before too long. Roy might do well to take a leaf out of Buttler’s book.

"I've almost changed the way I've been looking at T20 batting. I’ve seen the West Indies’ guys back their six-hitting, so if I'm getting stuck, I look at my score and think if I hit the next two balls for six, I jump into a different position,” Buttler said on Tuesday night, as if to prove once and for all that he is the reverse Boycott.

With that attitude, it is little wonder England’s T20 cricket just keeps getting better.

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