ANDRE MALAN: CSNI professional's search for '˜the sweet spot'
Andre Malan is the man of the moment.
The CSNI professional has scored 589 runs in 13 innings across all competitions within his first NCU season, averaging 49.08.
And 140 of those came in the Challenge Cup quarter-final win over North Down followed by 107 against Carrickfergus, helping to seal the Stormont side’s first Premier League win of the season.
It has been the ultimate purple patch, especially during June, with the South African taking 27 wickets in those 13 matches - the highest in the NCU.
After a relatively slow start to life in Belfast, a change in mindset and more positive intent, Malan has reaped the rewards.
“I do believe that most batsmen try to figure out and assess conditions, and in the first couple of games I overestimated the difference in conditions from back home because they aren’t that much different,” Malan says of his form. “I expected a lot of slow wickets and nipping bowling with rain.
“The wickets have been half a yard slower than back home, but I’ve had a bit more positive intent and a mind change in the sense that if I get out, I get out, but I’m here to score runs and I might as well do it in the manner I want to do it.”
Malan grew up in a small town, playing cricket with his brothers Pieter and Janneman in a homemade net and wicket in the back garden, before making his way to Pretoria to pursue a career in cricket.
Pieter is well-known in local cricketing circles, having spent two seasons with North Down, and it was advice from his older sibling that made Andre’s mind up about the move.
“He was a massive part of me coming here - I would say 100% actually,” said Malan. “I spoke to him and he said I wouldn’t be able to find a better club standard in the UK and the people as well.
“He was in England for four or five seasons before he came here, and after two seasons he said it was much better here.”
Adapting to life halfway across the world in a different climate isn’t an easy task for anyone, and Malan found that out in a stint with a Manchester-based club eight years ago. But this time round it has been a much easier transition.
“It has been seamless,” he said. “Eight years ago I had two months in Manchester as an overseas amateur.
“It was a bit different back then because I was 18 and the club didn’t have their structures in place.
“Those two and a bit months were very long, so coming over here I was trying to keep an open mind.
“I can’t say I’m counting down days to go home because it’s not like that at all, and the guys have been wonderful as well.
“The weather has helped in last 11 weeks as well.”
Being a professional in the Premier League brings its own challenges.
People expect you to be the one to hit the runs and get the wickets. People watch with baited breath to see what you produce. People want to say they got you out.
Malan admits there is pressure on his shoulders, but his team-mates have pulled together to lessen it, especially Marc Ellison with 630 runs this season - the highest of any player in the Union.
“I would say there is pressure, but pressure is good,” said Malan. “If there wasn’t pressure on you it means people aren’t expecting anything from you.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself as well in terms of what I want to do individually but also for the team.
“If you score 100 and take five wickets your team will probably win, and it is an outcome-based business we are in.
“There is pressure because we are working towards something more than the club has been in recent years, but I would say the pressure has been taken off my batting by Marc.
“He has out-scored me by 50 runs or so, and I haven’t batted badly.
“Graeme McCarter’s bowling is invaluable and Matthew Foster’s bowling over the last two months has picked up two-fold.
“There is pressure, but my team-mates have helped levelling that up. It isn’t a two or three-man team, they’ve made it a lot easier.”
Players can be motivated by many different things. Malan’s love for the game is infectious and you can hear the passion flowing out through his South African tones.
He feels CSNI are onto something special and, after just taking three wickets to beat Instonians in the Challenge Cup semi-final, it could come rather soon.
“I’m not going to lie and say I just play for fun,” he said. “I love bowling and probably love it more than anyone I know.
“For me, at this moment, it is a bit more satisfying than scoring runs where I think coming through as a bowler in this stage of my career people put you in a box.
“They think you are a batsman and obviously it’s a good thing because they see me as a good batsman, but I want to be in the team as a bowler as well that can bat three or four.
“I would say in terms of the cliché fun thing, I enjoy being with the 10 other guys on the field where there is a lot of other stuff you can do on a Saturday or Sunday.
“It’s the enjoyment of 11 guys working together and seeing the growth, not just in cricket terms but in human terms as well.
“I find it enjoyable when a team gets into the sweet spot of synergy and cohesion. Some teams never find it, but I feel we are almost there now.”