“Draw at Newlands would have been more satisfying”
During his 369-minute stay at the crease in Newlands, Pieter Malan was already fighting for his career on debut. His was playing his first match for the country at 30. He had been picked against the quota rule of ‘transformation’ only because Temba Bavuma and established South Africa opener Aiden Markram were injured. South Africa had been set an improbable 438 to win the second Test. Malan rose to the occasion. He couldn’t bat out the fifth day against England who eventually won the Test, but throughout his 288-ball 84, the top score in that innings, Malan had put on display the stubbornness required of a Test opener.
With Bavuma set to return in the fourth and final Test in Johannesburg starting Friday, Malan can only hope his fight and spunk at Cape Town won’t be forgotten soon. “From a personal point of view it would have been a lot more satisfying if we had batted for another 40 minutes and drawn the match. Personal accolades don’t mean much, if you still end up losing the match,” Malan told this newspaper in an interview. “But Newlands, one of the best cricket grounds in the world…80 percent filled with Barmy army, so I didn’t expect that. But yeah, the atmosphere was amazing. In terms of making your debut, you can’t ask for better than that.”
A month back, Malan was just another domestic journeyman who had begun playing in 2006-07. In 245 domestic-innings, he averages 45.16 with 32 centuries. Hope soared and nosedived as seasons went by until at 30 and at the turn of 2020, an opportunity came. Malan spoke about it in the press conference after the Newlands Test. “Somebody asked me earlier about being out there and feeling pressure, but that’s not pressure ... that’s privilege. Pressure is playing in a semi-professional game with nobody watching, fighting for your career,” he had said.
“I definitely thought for a long time, international cricket would not happen and when it did, it happened quite quickly. But I think the years of waiting has prepared me quite well for the test that international cricket brings your way. It’s been a long wait but definitely been worth it,” he says.
Not for a long time have South Africa looked as shaky as they do now since their post-apartheid re-entry. Under the pump to square the series against England, South Africa hope to bounce back from a forgettable year where they were blanked by Sri Lanka at home before losing 0-3 to India away. Newcomers like Malan have only seen the slide from a distance and see a ray of hope with former players like Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher coming together to manage the team.
“It’s always nice to have guys with that level of experience. They have been through it and have seen it all. When they tell you something, you know that it is coming from an authentic place. So, I think that could make a big difference going forward,” he says.
Malan says the team, smarting from two back-to-back Test losses, has been working on the mental side of things. “A lot of work in our game plans is on the mental side, to try and see how much we can execute under pressure. If we can do that than we should be in better shape,” he said.
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