Dawid Malan admits Middlesex’s young players are “shivering in their boots” at the prospect of working with AB de Villiers when the world-class South African batsman arrives in St John’s Wood later this summer.
Following some underwhelming campaigns in limited-overs cricket in recent seasons, officials at Lord’s have signed both De Villiers and the teenage Afghanistan spinner, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, for this year’s Vitality Blast, and even though their arrival is still three months distant, the mere prospect excites Malan and his junior colleagues.
“It’s no secret we’ve been pretty poor in white-ball cricket, especially the T20 format. So to have AB and Mujeeb gives us a great boost,” said Malan.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to win games now because we’ve signed two players. The whole squad has to improve and it’s up to us all to contribute. But the atmosphere when we’ve just been talking about having AB and Mujeeb here has been unbelievable.
“The young boys are shivering in their boots at the prospect of getting the chance to speak to AB, learn from him and watch him bat. It’s going to be a fantastic experience for all of us to play with a living legend.”
Before then, of course, Middlesex will begin their County Championship campaign at Northampton in a couple of weeks’ time and then they will face Lancashire at Lord’s and come up against James Anderson, a bowler Malan regards as “one of the best that’s ever lived”.
For neither of those games, though, will Malan’s side contain an overseas player and that policy is quite deliberate.
The county has yet to decide whether it needs such a recruit for its four-day matches this year and no decision will be made until new coach Stuart Law has assessed the squad after the first fortnight of the season.
As Middlesex’s skipper in all formats this year Malan is certain to be involved in any discussions and the 31-year-old is deeply aware of his responsibilities to all members of his squad as he gears up for a campaign which he hopes will be crowned by promotion.
“We have 14 or 15 players who have played England or England Lions in the last three or four years, so to leave players out for an overseas is not something the coaches want to do yet,” he said.
“We need to see what type of overseas player we might need. Hopefully, we can win our first two games but still be able to work out where we need to fill a gap to become a better side.
“We want to be promoted and we don’t want to be the only team that doesn’t have an overseas player in four-day cricket and yet does not get promoted. But if you get the right overseas player, it can only be good for the development of young cricketers.”
But Malan’s excitement is certainly not confined to either the prospect or possibility of world-class cricketers arriving at St John’s Wood this season. The sight of a fully fit Steven Finn, Tom Helm and Toby Roland-Jones going through their paces in the nets at Merchant Taylors’ school in Northwood this spring also enthuses him, even if it brings selection problems for Law and his staff.
“Ethan Bamber had a fantastic year in 2018 but this season Steven, Tom and Toby are all 100 per cent fit, so places become tough to get again,” he said. “You want to see cricketers like Ethan Bamber and Max Holden playing as much first-team cricket as possible, but with the players we’ve got it makes it more difficult to fit people in.
“Toby is a massive part of our team. He’s probably our most valuable player in all three formats when he’s fit. He’s able to contribute with bat or ball and was a massive loss last season. A fit Toby Roland-Jones playing in 12 out of your 14 first-class games will probably put you in a position to win half of those games. Having him, Tom and Steven fit gives us the bowling depth we were lacking in 2018.”
Malan also has personal objectives but they are consonant with those of his team. After a winter in which he played short-form cricket in six different countries, he hopes to score centuries that will both set up victories for Middlesex and catch the attention of England’s selectors in an Ashes summer.
“I hope I can get in a position where I’m looked at by England again but that’s not on my mind at the moment and I can’t look too far ahead,” he said.
“I’ve only had five innings after my breakthrough winter in 2017-8 and I haven’t suddenly become a bad player in five innings. New selectors have taken over and they have their views about how they want to go forward. It’s up to me to score the runs to prove I should still be part of that system.
The reassurance for Malan as he begins to organise his testimonial and prepares to score the weight of runs that will help him win back that England place is that he is already developing an excellent relationship with Law and discussions have already taken place with Karl McDermott, Lord’s new head groundsman, regarding the type of pitches Middlesex would like this year.
“Stuey’s been brilliant,” he said. “He’s everything I thought he was and heard he was. I had a little bit to do with him when England played a series against the West Indies in 2017 when he gave me some tips about playing in Australia and they helped me.
“To see him working here has been fantastic because he’s brought a different calmness to the team and he’s quite a straightforward man. And I think the boys are quite excited by the fact it’s a fresh voice. He’s already had a chat as regards the type of wickets he wants and the groundsman is pretty confident he can do it.”
PAUL EDWARDS / Photo: Getty Images