Cape Town – While Pieter Malan’s 288-ball, 369-minute knock of 84 came in a losing cause for the Proteas in the second Test against England at Newlands this week, it was one of the more impressive debuts you are likely to see.
Malan, at the age of 30 and with comfortably more than 10 000 first-class runs to his name, showed incredible application, concentration and defensive resilience as he got his side agonisingly close to what would have been a famous draw.
Just as impressive as his on-field achievement, though, was how Malan handled himself in his post-match press conference, where he sat in front of a packed room of South African and English journalists.
Malan has waited a long, long time for this moment, having notched up nearly 150 first-class matches over the years, and finally the world was taking note.
His answers were inspiring in their honesty, while Malan provided a dose of perspective that is often forgotten when talking about playing sport at the highest level.
“Somebody asked me earlier about being out there and feeling pressure, but that’s not pressure … that’s privilege,” he said, providing easily the quote of the series so far.
“Pressure is playing in a semi-professional game with nobody watching, fighting for your career.”
For Malan, it looked as if the opportunity to play international cricket had come and gone.
“Definitely,” he said, frankly, when asked if he thought this moment would never come.
“I probably thought that when I was way younger than I am now, that it was never going to happen.
“Life works in funny ways and I reached a point in my life where I decided that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and that it’s not something for me to worry about.”
The advantage of fielding someone of Malan’s experience on debut is that he enters the international arena a complete player and one who understands his own game in and out.
Malan’s account of his past also speaks to a maturity that comes with trying and then failing and then doing it over and over again.
“I don’t think I did myself any favours when I was younger,” he added.
“I took a lot of stuff for granted and I didn’t really put in the hard work that, in hindsight, I needed to put in.
“It’s also a matter of opportunities and them being limited and then not taking them when I did get them.
“It’s been a long road, but a road that I’m glad I took because it’s made me a better cricketer and a better person. It’s made me appreciate playing for the Proteas. It’s been tough, but it’s been worth it.”
Malan’s character and ability to roll up the sleeves is exactly what the new Proteas leadership is looking for and he is now a shoo-in for the Tests in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
It was such a refreshing reminder that, sometimes, hard work pays off and the cream rises to the top.
“Being out there in front of the Barmy Army, with Jimmy Anderson running in … it felt like a video game at one stage,” he said.
“It was unbelievable and I felt very privileged to be in a position where I could fight for the team.
“I’ve walked down these stairs a lot of times playing for WP and I’ve even played a club game here. I always take a second or two to look up at the mountain and appreciate where we play. It’s very special for me.”
When Malan left the press conference room the journalists present discussed how heartwarming his story was. It just sits well seeing a player go through the hard yards to make it to the very top.
Then, around 10 minutes later as the journalists were bashing away furiously at their laptops, Malan returned to the room.
He had forgotten his pair of sunglasses on the press conference table, alongside all of the microphones and recording devices.
“Sorry, I forgot these here. I don’t get them for free,” he said to laughter, picking them up and scurrying off.
Malan, before this past week, was a regular Joe who did regular things.
That is all about to change, and it is so fully deserved.