Heinrich Malan began his cricketing journey in South Africa, making 10 first class and nine List-A appearances for the Northerns cricket team between 2005 to 2009. He then moved to New Zealand, switching from playing to coaching as he managed the Central Stags and later, the Auckland Aces. During this time, he was also involved in several projects with the New Zealand A and the senior’s men’s national team, including their tour of England last summer that ended with the World Test Championship Final win.
Ajaz Patel, who took a 10-for against India, has credited Malan for helping him hone his ‘match awareness and the understanding of the game’. More than a decade after he started his journey as a professional cricket coach in New Zealand, the 41-year-old flipped the page to a new cricket landscape. “One with the least sun,” as he says.
With a T20 World Cup less than five months away and a home summer featuring New Zealand, South Africa, Afghanistan, and India, the new Ireland men’s cricket team head coach has quite a busy first few months lined up at the office.
“The international summer is on our doorstep and it’s exciting that the first two T20Is against India are sold out,” the Ireland coach tells the Indian Express.
“The pressure is always there, doesn’t matter if you are coaching a high school side or an international side.”
Since he first set his foot on Irish soil, Malan didn’t take much time before getting on a country-wide drive watching the inter-provincial cricket, talking to the players and the coaches for selecting the players for the upcoming season. Even though not new to coaching, he believes there’s quite a lot more delegating of the work in international cricket.
“I think I’ve got one foot under the table at this stage (chuckles) in terms of who is who and who is looking to do what,” he says.
“To give them (the support staff) a bit of the rope and say that you guys lead this, it gives me a bit of the helicopter view to see where things are at. I guess that’s a big part of being a head coach at international cricket with a lot of support staff and a lot of people to manage. That’s exactly what it is, the man-management side of things.”
Malan’s first assignment with the Ireland team will be a two-match T20I series against the number one team in the ICC rankings, starting this Sunday. Even though India are missing quite a few big names from their last visit to Ireland and even though they will be making a shift from the Indian summer to the UK summer, the newly appointed coach believes the men in blue will be at it once the action begins.
“That’s the challenge moving around the world and playing international cricket (getting used to the weather),” Malan says.
“I guess with the IPL now, there are more international teams who have players accustomed to going to India and adapting to those conditions. But when the Indian or the sub-continental players come to Ireland, even as a New Zealander/South African, it took me a little bit of time to adapt. I’m sure there’ll be a few beanies and hand-warmers out in the first couple of days. But once the action starts, the adrenaline kicks in and people play for their country, once that happens you don’t think about anything else and just get stuck in.”
A ‘run-ish fest’ awaits in Malahide
When asked about the pitch and the conditions at The Village in Malahide, the Ireland coach starts off by saying, “I think it will be green, soft, and very slow,” before he breaks into a laugh.
“That’s the fun part of thinking about an Indian team that is heading to our shores. In the old days you would’ve thought that for the subcontinental teams, you just don’t want a spinning wicket. But now, all of a sudden, you prepare a green one and the Indian guys walk up with bowlers who can bowl 140 consistently. It’s not as easy anymore.”
As a coach and as someone who has felt cricket from a bowler’s side of things, Malan isn’t a big fan of 200 v 200 pitches but knows how the T20 brand and its audience relates to it.
“From all the conversations that I’ve had, the wicket at Malahide is pretty good. It’s a run-ish fest which I’m sure people would want to see. Hopefully both games go the distance and there’ll be some results in the last over which’ll get the heart rates up.”
On the new additions for the India series
In their squad for the two T20Is against India, Ireland have added two new names to the senior team. Stephen Doheny and Conor Olphert. Malan introduces them as young and exciting lads that have been part of the Wolves (Ireland-A team) setup and the domestic circuit for some time now.
“Doheny is a very explosive top order batter and someone that we are really excited about to add the firepower among the top six batters for us,” the 41-year old tells. “He can play the covering role in the first 12-15 overs, which is really an important part for us.”
“Olphert is an exciting young quick bowler, one of the two-three quickest bowlers on the island. If we can find a bit of extra pace and bounce on those Australian wickets, then hopefully we can rush a couple of batters and create some opportunities.”
The 2024 ICC Media rights key for red-ball cricket in Ireland
The last few months have, and the next few months will include a lot of white-ball, especially T20 fixtures for Ireland. But that hasn’t stopped Malan, a Test cricket fan at heart, from making it a big priority of his to push for more of the longer format cricket for the senior team as well as the domestic circuit.
“It is about keep finding ways to get our players prepared to play a bit of Test cricket and four day cricket,” he says.
“There’s huge developments around the scene for when the ICC rights get sold and hopefully from 2024 we can expect a little bit more funding which will not just assist the main side but also the whole system to allow us to play a little bit more red ball cricket. Since I’ve been here, it’s one of my key focus areas in my bi weekly catchup with Richard Holdsworth, our high performance manager. Just highlighting every two weeks, ‘please remember about the red ball side of things’. I go with my wishlist to the decision makers and it becomes their job to give us some money to do that.”
Ireland’s schedule might look tight for the next few to accommodate red-ball cricket, but that is where their coach believes a page needs to be taken from the Indian team’s itinerary.
“The schedule (in international cricket) changes so quickly. If you look at the Indian side, the guys have just finished playing a t20 series, they are prepping for a one-off Test and then the next series kicks off. That’s what we want to try and find our guys durable for too.”
Watch the LIVE coverage of Ireland vs India – 1st & 2nd T20i on SONY SIX (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels on 26th & 28th June 2022 from 9:00 pm IST.