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Dawid Malan and the T20 anchor question

Dawid Malan is the No. 1 ranked T20I batsman in the world. He isn't the most fancied T20 cricketer on the planet. He isn't the most sought-after player in franchise cricket. He is unlikely to make a T20I dream XI among current cricketers. In fact, he is a doubtful selection in the England team itself. There are actually critics questioning his place in the England T20 setup.

But Malan is the No. 1 ranked batsman in the format in international cricket. No, there's no nepotism angle. The ranking system may not be the most perfect, but to reach No. 1, a batsman has still got to score runs, and that's what Malan has done.

In his 16-match T20I career, Malan has scored below 10 just once. He has crossed double digits 93.75 percent of the time. He averages 48.71 in the format. But then, average counts to nothing in this format. So, chuck that. He has a hundred. He has seven fifties. He strikes at a rate of 146.66.

England deem him good enough to keep their Test captain and ODI beast Joe Root out of their T20I XI. Malan has his critics, sure. They point to his slow starts and the English setup as two polar opposites. They aren't wrong, but should every player in a batting line-up be big hitters in this format?

There's statistical evidence to suggest that hitting boundaries frequently even by consuming a lot of dots in between is more effective than following an ODI approach in T20Is. All of that is fair enough on paper. But on the field, when the team is staring down the barrel at 20/3 in six overs, you likely do not want a big hitter walking in trying to slog.

You don't need a batsman who drops anchor and scores a 40-ball 25. But if the anchor is capable of a conversion rate as good as Malan, you cannot complain. Yes, Malan starts slow. But so far, there's little evidence to suggest that he wouldn't kick on from his starts more often than not. On the contrary, evidence points to him converting his slow start to something substantial a lot more often.

England's T20 line-up is scary, much like their ODI setup. They have a long line of big hitters capable of swinging for the fences and scoring at a frenetic pace. Their whole limited-overs transformation is based on batting deep and scoring as much as possible.

Consistent acceleration is a concept foreign to most T20 sides. It is the future of T20 cricket and England have embraced it in earnest. It is likely to win you more games than you will lose. Ideally, the England side does not need an anchor.

Malan is not any bland T20 anchor. His strike-rate, ability to accelerate and switch gears is evidence that he is a dynamic player capable of playing to team demands. He has a specific role in the England T20 setup, one that Joe Root, one of the busiest ODI batsmen in terms of running between the wickets, hasn't quite perfected.

Modern-day T20 anchors choose the right moment to attack, and contrary to the concept that their slow starts put pressure on their mates, it empowers them to attack at every opportunity, as one end is safe yet flexible enough to cash in on loose balls.  

Take the example of Kane Williamson in the Hyderabad setup. Or that of Suryakumar Yadav in the Mumbai setup. Neither are big hitters. Both maintain good tempo and showcase impeccable range. Malan has no evident weakness except that he takes time to settle in. But a strike-rate of 146.6 and a streak of double-digit scores show he can afford a slightly less dynamic start. And, he is just 16 T20Is into his career. England have a gem that needs to be preserved and highlighted. Malan's time, like the new age T20 anchors, will come, if it hasn't already.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dan Mullan

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