Dawid Malan made a striking entry into international cricket in a Twenty20 international in Cardiff in 2017, demolishing South Africa’s attack with 78 from 44 balls – the highest T20 innings by an England debutant. From the time he deposited the second ball, from Chris Morris, over mid-wicket for six, he never looked back.
By the end of the summer, Malan had won a place in England’s Ashes tour party, with England hoping he could play a tough-guy role at No 4. His first five Tests, against South Africa and the West Indies, were far from exceptional, with an average of 23.82 and only two half-centuries, but England calculated he possessed the fortitude and, at 30, the know-how to handle an Australian series. He did exactly that by scoring England’s first hundred of the Ashes series after they had reached the WACA 2-0 down, a tough, grown-up innings that was exactly what was needed at a time when England were having to answer charges of off-field immaturity.
Ed Smith, though, was a restless new national selector and after three Tests of the 2018 summer Malan carried the can for top-order failings. Much emphasis was placed on the fact that his average in England was a paltry 20.23 in eight Tests, with a top score of 65 against West Indies. Middlesex did not bring release: a failed promotion campaign under his leadership, more T20 failure and a Championship average the wrong side of 30.
Malan had shown in domestic cricket that he was capable of dominant innings. Nine years earlier, as an unknown 20-year-old for Middlesex in 2008, he came in at No 6 to hit a brilliant unbeaten hundred in a Twenty20 quarter-final against a Lancashire attack containing Andrew Flintoff, Glen Chapple and Dominic Cork. He was still being called an unknown – in Australia at least – as his twenties drew to a close.
Malan had put himself on the verge of an England call-up with a record-breaking performance for England Lions against Sri Lanka A in Northampton in 2016. Malan, the Lions’ captain and elder statesman, struck an unbeaten 185 from 126 balls – a record for the Lions or England A in List A cricket, beating 168 by Ravi Bopara against West Indies A in Worcester in 2010.