Malan paints his own picture as Middlesex battle back

Middlesex 296 for 5 (Malan 103*, Franklin 63*) trail Surrey 313 (Sangakkara 113*, Sibley 54, Franklin 4-40) by 17 runs

What Kumar Sangakkara achieved, Dawid Malan matched [file picture] © Getty Images

An 18th first class hundred for Dawid Malan, brought up in an innings that started in rain and ended in sun, paints an appropriate picture. Middlesex were in no great shakes at 50 for 2, as Surrey exploited a lively surface in the early afternoon, when Malan strode to the crease to calm them with a bit of class.

Some prefer the crashing of waves, others the wails of whales. Judging by the sighs in the Pavilion, impeccable cover drives from Middlesex’s No. 4 did the trick. It is not forcing the point to say that Kumar Sangakkara’s day one century has been matched by one from Middlesex’s own classy left-hander.

Maybe his teammates sought to match the Sangakkara portrait unveiled at Lord’s before the opening day by knocking up a doodle to stick on the wall of the changing room for when he returned 103 not out – bat under one arm, game under the other.

But just as Sangakkara’s was a lone hand of style and substance, Malan negotiated tricky periods to steer Middlesex out of harm’s way and close to parity, with five wickets remaining. Aided with an enterprising half-century from James Franklin in the evening session – he reached the milestone off 43-deliveries with back-to-back sixes off Scott Borthwick – they are in control of what happens next. They both rest overnight with 92 unbeaten for the sixth wicket.

The last nine months have been strange for Malan who, aged 29, has never been more assured of his own game but might be a tad confused by his standing in the domestic game.

Last summer, he was left “speechless” by a call-up to England’s T20 side for a one-off match against Sri Lanka, though did not make the playing XI. He was then asked to captain an exciting Lions side against Pakistan A but, despite finishing the season strongly – including an England Lions List A record score of 185 not out – he was overlooked for the winter programme. It is fair to say he was miffed by the snub.

That meant filling his winter how he could. Previously he would spend the part of his off-season back in South Africa, giving his game an MOT under the precise watch of Gary Kirsten. On occasion, he has had to weigh up the possibility of spending the new year in Australia on the off-chance that he might wangle a BBL gig as a late injury-replacement.

Yet again, he spent time at the Bangladesh Premier League for the Barisa Bulls before winning the PSL with Peshawar Zalmi, which involved a final in Lahore. He was back in front of the selectors’ eyes during the North-South series in the UAE. Even when he returned a century in the first match, he wasn’t getting ahead of himself. He surmised that three figures, while nice, was useless if it did not bring him closer to higher honours.

For the most part against Surrey, he was chanceless. There was a bit of tentativeness early on – after all, his highest score until today, in all forms, was a 50 against Glamorgan in the Royal London One-Day Cup. But, for the most part, he had a plan against all those he faced today and stuck to it brilliantly.

Against Mark Footitt, who brought Malan to the crease with an exceptional delivery that pitched on middle and leg climbed into the shoulder of Nick Compton’s bat on its way through to Ben Foakes, he remained calm and picked him off when the left-armer arrowed in at the stumps. He was able to second-guess Stuart Meaker’s changes in length, rarely omitting to punish anything over-pitched.

When Meaker did settle into the groove upon the wicket of Adam Voges, he was able to unsettle John Simpson with a sustained assault on about middle and leg. After a couple of strong lbw shouts against Simpson, Malan took charge and hit Meaker out of the attack with back-to-back fours: the first cut behind point, the second thumped through cover, to take him to 68. The hundred came up off his 169th ball, as he stepped into a delivery from Gareth Batty and threaded it through a staggered cover field.

For the most part, Stevie Eskinazi kept him company. It speaks volumes of Eskinazi’s standing in the side that with Sam Robson’s injury, it was Compton, in his first Championship start of the season, who opened with Nick Gubbins.

Eskinazi is very much Middlesex’s man at first drop: 67 was a third score above fifty this season and one that took him past 1,000 first-class runs. He bats like a man who has made more.

If Middlesex were wasteful on the first morning, they were ruthless on the second day. Surrey lost their last five wickets for just 48 thanks to some incisive bowling and exceptional catching.

The bigger of Franklin’s two wickets – Sangakkara, adding just one to his overnight score – owed more to Ollie Rayner, who took his second blinding catch of the match from a wideish third slip. Sangakkara cut hard, expecting four, but instead found Rayner’s sizeable right paw. The Sri Lankan’s disbelief was shared by most who bore witness.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport

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