On Gyanendra Malla: form is temporary, class is permanent

‘Form is temporary, class is permanent,’ they say. If you are a sports fan, you are sure to have heard the saying. It applies perfectly to one of the most technically correct and classy batsmen Nepal has ever produced, current skipper Gyanendra Malla.

An athlete’s form fluctuates over the course of his or her career. it has happened with skipper Gyanendra Malla, too. On the 24th of July, 2019, Malla played one of the most spectacular T20I innings in his cricketing career, scoring the fastest half-century for Nepal. Malla was at the crease batting on 45*(19) against Malaysia at the Indian Association Ground in Singapore. Nepal was chasing 84 against the hosts at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Region Final. The match was shortened to nine overs each due to rain.

Facing Muhammad Syahadat, Malla middled his next ball to deep midwicket boundary for a six, achieving the feat. This was an important knock in the context of Malla’s career because it gave him the confidence in the context of a slump. In Malla’s preceding ten T20I innings he scored just 66 runs, which included seven single-digit scores and highest score of 23 against Qatar.

Malla’s individual performance in the ICC World Cup Qualifier 2018 were also poor. He scored only 73 runs in six innings at that tournament. But since his fastest fifty for Nepal in 2019, Malla’s T20I career has improved considerably.

Nepalese skipper Gyanendra Malla celebrates his maiden T20I ton against Bhutan. Photo: CricketingNepal

Five months after he scored his fastest T20I half-century, Malla struck his maiden ton in the T20Is, a well-crafted innings of 107(55) against Bhutan in the South Asian Games. Malla celebrated the innings by dedicating it to his two-month-old daughter, his first major achievement after having entered into parenthood. On this day, he also became the T20I captain to record the seventh-highest score in overall T20Is. Malla believes that his daughter has brought good luck his way because since her arrival in 2019 things have taken a turn for the better. 

Thirteen days after his maiden T20I ton, Malla scored another century, the fastest in Nepal’s domestic circuit. His score of 100*(37) in the Pokhara Premier League against Dhangadi Blues included eight fours and nine boundaries. This was only the second century in the history of Nepal’s T20 franchise leagues.

Malla’s career has definitely seen its fair share of lows, as is inevitable in an athlete’s career, but more often than not, his contributions are overshadowed by the misses. Perhaps unfairly.

Malla has been the mainstay in Nepal’s batting lineup, scoring the most runs in Nepal’s overall World Cricket League journey from 2007 to 2017. According to CricketEurope’s data, Malla has scored 1579 runs in 55 innings averaging 34.98 in the World Cricket League system. This is the third-highest number of runs scored in the overall league just behind Peter Gough (2006 runs) from Jersey, and the Gerrie Snyman from Namibia (1759 runs). The legendary Paras Khadka is only 30 runs behind Malla in the overall WCL system.

Malla is also the second-highest run-scorer for Nepal in T20Is, behind Paras Khadka. Since Nepal gained the historic ODI status in 2018, soon after Malla’s forgetful tournament in Namibia, his one-day scores have improved and now he stands tall as the second-highest run-scorer for Nepal in the ODI format. In addition, if we look at Nepal’s overall T20 franchise leagues since their inception in 2017, Malla stands ahead of the games, scoring 1091 runs averaging 26.61 in the 44 innings he has played. 

So why does Malla receive criticism despite being one of the finest batsmen Nepal has ever produced? It might be his forgetful form prior to 2019 and the few milestones he has to show for it. If his major milestones across all formats are to be taken into consideration, Malla has scored eight half-centuries and a century in the WCL despite being the third-highest run-scorer in the league. He has only a half-century and a century to his name in his 25 T20I innings and one half-century off ten innings in the ODI format.

Here’s another question. Are personal batting milestones the only determinant of greatness in a cricketer? Surely not!

Cricket is a team game and what matters ultimately is the contribution that a cricketer makes to help their team secure the coveted win. Malla’s contributions often go unnoticed because he doesn’t have too many personal milestones in his career. He is also criticised for his performance opening the batting. But if we are to look at his T20I stats as an opener, he has scored 400 runs (70% of his total runs) in 11 innings averaging 36.36 with a scoring rate of 143.88. I leave these numbers to the readers to analyse, of course.  

With great power comes great responsibility. Since taking over the captaincy in T20Is, Malla has scored 283 runs in seven innings, averaging 47.16 at a strike rate of 147.39. He has scored the same number of runs, 283, but in 20 innings, averaging 14.89 at a strike rate of 103.66, when not at the helm. According to HowSTAT, while Paras Khadka has anchored Nepal nine times in T20I innings, Gyanendra Malla has done it six times, followed by Dipendra Singh Airee at four.

In domestic leagues from 2017 until early 2020, 55.91% of Malla’s total runs have come in boundaries. He has also struck the most sixes (47) for a Nepali batsman, just behind Paras’ 48. He has a boundary to six ratio of 1.47, meaning on average he hits one six for every 1.47 fours.

His fielding is also often overlooked too, when in truth, he’s been one of the finest fielders for Nepal. He has taken some breathtaking catches, helping Nepal get crucial wickets. Furthermore, his spectacular diving efforts on the field have helped minimise possible losses. 

Since the beginning of 2019, Malla has scored 403 runs in 14 T20I innings averaging 28.78 at a strike rate of 132.13. Against Malaysia, Malla has played four innings and has scored 103 runs in T20Is, averaging 25.75 at a strike rate of 133.76. Against the Dutch, he has played the same number of innings and has scored 73 runs at an average of 17.75, at a strike rate of 102.89. In his only three T20I innings at home, Malla has scored 148 runs with an average of 49.33 and a strike rate of 155.79.

With the talent that Malla has, Nepali fans, this time too, will expect him to provide Nepal a better start as is required from its top order.  

To expect an athlete to perform at a hundred percent all of the time is unrealistic. On days that Malla gets going, we’ve all seen him play some magical innings with gorgeous-looking shots. What Nepal Cricket supporters can do, at the very least, is believe in a player’s ability and passion: that on any given day we can expect him or her to give their best for the team and country.

The dynamic skipper has some unfinished business to settle, and until then, the fans will simply have to strap on their seatbelts for the ride and hope for the best that is yet to come. It is time for us all to remember Gyanendra Malla’s poor form can be temporary, but his class remains permanent.

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