66, 42, 21, 19 and 55 read Dawid Malan’s last five innings going into the third T20I against South Africa but one thing that stayed pretty much constant was the overhead threat over his place. Malan was consistent and had a unique style but a place was never guaranteed.
Such is England’s batting depth, they could feature any of the players that played in the intra-squad warm-up game and still be hailed as one of the best sides around the world. And Dawid Malan rightly was a piece of this English puzzle, he always featured in the squad but at the same time looked like he would be replaced anytime Eoin Morgan decided to field their best XI.
So in real terms, the biggest indicator of whether he was going to be a starter was the series against South Africa, which also was his litmus test before the World Cup year that beckoned. After having a poor start in the first game, Malan had managed to sew his way around the South African variety in the second T20I where he batted through the innings alongside skipper Morgan to win the game, yet somewhere there was a lot left to be desired.
Could he, was he, would he - several questions around the same horizon popped up, but the results always ended up stating that facts. Statistically, Malan had proven that he has upped his T20 game - from all the T20s he has played around the world, in short becoming a globe-trotter - making a name for himself in the shortest format but in England, you needed something substantially different and consistently better to succeed. That’s where the third T20I came as a blessing in disguise. "When you have Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan in the side, why do you need another left-hander?" was pretty much the question on the English fans' lips!
In between the third T20I and his first appearance Malan had sealed himself on the leaderboard, even topping the charts as No.1 T20I ranked batsman but seldom does the T20I rankings talk anything, given that it has the tendency to change every third month. But there was consistency. The cuts, the pulls off his deeper back foot and a gorgeous ability to find the middle of the bat, Malan walked out to carve a niche for himself amidst England’s mighty lions. However, all of his T20I innings had something eerily similar - his slow start, which was a pointing concern, especially given that he didn’t finish enough games for the nation.
Then he walked out to bat in the third T20I, at 25/1, chasing 192 for a victory, with one South African pacer looking to taunt the left-hander. Nortje had just struck to remove Jason Roy, which only put the left-hander in the ‘spotlight.’ Despite his peeking frailties against such a bowling attack, he was always on the attack, looking to break the shackles pretty much from ball one. And he took on Nortje with a pull-shot, which has been his trademark shot in International cricket. He didn’t look like a slow-starter and surely didn’t look undercooked to make it big on the international front, there was the chance to seal the deal, walk the talk at Newlands.
His weakness, which was well documented in this series, was the uncanny test of facing Tabraiz Shamsi, who had a sweet record against the left-hander. But what made his knock more special at Newlands was how he tackled his frailties by converting them into opportunities and turn them into success. A reverse sweep off the first ball set the ball rolling, which only came to an end when England had wrapped up one of the best chases in Cape Town - and Malan unbeaten on 99. A cheeky comment followed in the post-match presentation, which only went on to show how much he has progressed in terms of being ‘confident’ in this English side.
"I knew there were five left, but I didn't know how it would go down if I turned down the single,” sighed Malan, referring to the incident in New Zealand - where he didn’t get a bye off the last delivery in fear of losing his wicket. But through the series, he seemed to put past that side of him, including coming out earlier in the series, admitting that No.1 ranking means nothing and that it doesn’t seal his place. It didn’t matter till the third T20I.
"I had the momentum, Jos didn't start as quickly as he would have liked, but it ebbed and flowed in the innings. I know I have the power, it's just putting it into place at the right times to win games of cricket," he uttered further, which only signified that he took his spot and the criticism to improve very seriously. He won the game for the Three Lions but, more importantly, he won the race of sealing his place in the playing XI for the first time since he made his debut for the national side.
The Cape Town knock, if it did have the powers to pronounce, would tell you that Malan has unequivocally proven that he is the best that England have got and will embrace till it lasts. His average has always aced the 50 run mark, his strike-rate on the prowl, increasing every game and his confidence - sky-high - only puts the Three Lions on a pedestal, prompting the opposition to seemingly talk highly about the team’s batting depth.
“Try not to think about that [No.1 ranking], doesn't guarantee runs or getting picked. I'll look back fondly when I'm done,” he admitted after his winning knock in the second T20I against South Africa.
He earned very little praise in his first few games, more criticism in the others but now he seems to have moved past it and his teammates have started recognising a ‘game-for-game’ and a Malan for the future. The headline might just read “Dawid Malan’s 99 powers England to a victory in the third T20I,” but what it actually means is ‘Dawid Malan carves a niche for himself amidst England’s mighty lions,’ and that’s how it should sound!