Everyone gets excited when a young player debuts for the national team. He brings a fresh energy into the dressing room and often plays with the exuberance of never having failed before.
But just sometimes there’s an “old pro” that gets a late call-up.
A player that has taken all the hard knocks that first-class cricket can hand out.
Someone that has tucked away the flashy cover drive in favour of the leave.
Pieter Malan is the embodiment of such a batsman.
At 30-years-old and having played a decade of first-class cricket before debuting for the Proteas at Newlands this week, he also showed he is adept at leaving the ball.
In fact, he left many balls during his 288-ball stay at the crease in South Africa’s second innings. In an age where T20 cricket has made the “leave” almost redundant, Malan’s innings was a throwback to a bygone era.
“The last three to four years I have worked hard on it (the leave), eliminating dismissals that I thought was soft especially as a new-ball player. You want them to bowl at you. In South Africa it is tough facing the new ball, there is nip and bounce, so you want to leave as much as you can,” Malan said.
But why did it take Malan so long to graduate to the highest level despite once being a talented prodigy who played for South Africa * -19 in the Junior World Cup in 2008 alongside Proteas Wayne Parnell and Reeza Hendricks?
“I don’t think I did myself any favours. I took a lot of things for granted. I didn’t put in the hard work that was needed. I also didn’t take the opportunities when I got them. So, it’s been a long road, but it’s made me a better person too. It has been tough but it’s been worth it,” Malan said.
And unlike the youngsters of this modern era, Malan has learnt to appreciate the little things like “walking out at Newlands and looking up at the mountain” because he knows that it can all be taken away in a flash.
Equally, he doesn’t feel the pressure of trying to save a Test match for his country on the final day because he knows there are far bigger things in the world to preserve energy for.
“That’s not pressure. It is a privilege. Pressure is playing a semi-pro game fighting for your career. Being out there with the Barmy Army and (James) Anderson running in, it felt like a video game at one stage. I felt very privileged to be there fighting for the team, to try and bat long and just be there for the team,” Malan added.
South Africa will hope this calmness filters through the entire Proteas dressing room as they head to Port Elizabeth for the third Test.