White ball or England’s whites, Malan’s at home
- Truth be told, had Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley’s respective forms not ejected them out of the ongoing series after the first two Tests, Malan would not have been anywhere near this England Test squad.
Had there not been an overthrow to end the 80th over of the England innings, Dawid Malan would not have been on strike to face the first delivery of India’s second new ball. But truth be told, had Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley’s respective forms not ejected them out of the ongoing series after the first two Tests, Malan would not have been anywhere near this England Test squad either; let alone with a bat in hand at his homeground and striking his way to redemption.
Yet there Malan was, exactly three years to the month after he was dropped from Test cricket – and the opposition hadn’t changed either from when he last played in England’s whites. In August 2018, during India’s first of five Tests in Birmingham, Malan had carried over his woeful form from previous tours and that was that. For a long while, there seemed to be a finality about his complete disappearance from the format.
Malan’s bitter aftertaste of that match in Edgbaston wouldn’t just have been about his batting; his fielding let him down as well. All the hype leading up to that Test series was about the contest between Virat Kohli and the bowler who had severely troubled him on the previous tour in 2014, James Anderson. Birmingham 2018 began with Anderson inducing an edge from Kohli’s blade while he was on just 21, only for Malan to put down a sitter at second slip and watch Kohli smash a magnificent 149 (Anderson, incidentally, came nowhere close to that edge for the rest of the series).
That didn’t help, and neither did the criticism from England’s then national selector, Ed Smith. On the eve of this Test, Malan even confessed to having felt “derailed” by Smith’s take on his game. “But then having a bit of a break and gathering my thoughts after all of those comments I found a new lease of life,” Malan said. “Luckily enough I was still in and around the white-ball teams to put some of that into practice.”
He did, and the transformation from fallen Test star (Malan was England’s top-scorer in the Ashes of 2017-18 after all) to rising T20I star was nearly immediate. By mid-2020, he was the best ranked T20I batsman in the world, a ranking he holds to this day, all while keeping one eye on the big dream – a return to Test cricket. To facilitate that, he moved from Middlesex to Yorkshire, for whom he struck a score of 199 in his only first-class game this year, at Headingley.
Still, as Malan very well knew, Test cricket was a different ball game – especially when the ball was held by Jasprit Bumrah, the first bowler he would face on his return. For four balls he poked and shouldered and defended Bumrah, nodding after every survival to his partner in Haseeb Hameed, who too had returned to Test cricket this series after a five-year absence. Hameed’s form and presence would’ve been an inspiration, but not quite as inspiring as leaning on his front foot and cracking Bumrah through to the cover boundary to just get off the mark.
Back to the second new ball then, when Bumrah returned in the hope to cut short Malan’s comeback on 36. Until then, Malan had been mostly biding his time and waiting for the loose ones. But once the last delivery of Bumrah’s new ball over was scorched through the off side for the boundary of the day, Malan simply didn’t look back at the nervy innings thus far, or for that matter at the dark years spent in oblivion.