If, as expected, Dawid Malan is handed the pivotal No 3 role in England’s batting order for this week’s third Test against India at Headingley it will be one of the toughest challenges of his career.
The 33-year-old has established himself in England’s T20 side since he played the last of his 15 Tests – also against India – in August 2018. Still ranked the No 1 batsman in the world in the shortest format, Malan at least should feel more comfortable on the international stage than he did three years ago.
However, despite returning to the Test arena on his home ground of Headingley, the Yorkshire batsman, who moved from Middlesex two years ago, will be afforded few home comforts from a relentless India pace attack that ran through England’s brittle batting lineup to seal a thrilling final-day win in the second Test at Lord’s last week.
Malan’s cause will not be helped by the fact that his sole first-class innings this summer came in early June and the only cricket he has played in recent weeks has been the Hundred. Despite scoring 199 in that one red-ball appearance at Hove, it must be noted that the Sussex attack contained three teenagers – hardly ideal preparation for facing India’s four-pronged seam battery.
Yet with few options other than possibly James Vince, the decision to recall Malan has been backed by Angus Fraser, his former director of cricket at Middlesex and an England selector himself as recently as 2018. “We’re all looking at this through the lens of no one’s played much first-class cricket for five or six weeks,” says Fraser. “So who’s in any form of shape to go and play a Test match?
“I suppose it’s making a judgement on who’s done well. I think it’s fair enough, he deserves his selection in a way that when he’s played first-class cricket he’s had one big score this year.
“He has played international cricket before and has some experience so it’s not as though you’re chucking someone in there who hasn’t played for six weeks and are making their debut. You’ve got someone who’s got a bit of an idea of what he’s let himself in for. For that reason you can understand the selection and it’s one of those ones that if it’s not Dawid then who is it?”
Malan’s recall, which also saw the opener Dominic Sibley dropped from England’s squad, was no doubt made with one eye on this winter’s Ashes series given his success on the last tour of Australia in 2017-18, when he averaged 42.55 and scored his only Test century to date in Perth.
Dawid Malan scored his only England Test century during the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia. Photograph: David Neilson/Frozen in Motion/Shutterstock
Although he has a respectable Test average of 35.46 overseas, that drops to 20.23 at home and is part of the reason why former national selector Ed Smith, after dropping Malan three years ago, alluded that he might be a batsman best reserved for away series.
Conditions in Leeds this week then may not be in Malan’s favour but Fraser says he will be under pressure to deliver in the remaining three Tests against India this summer if he is to make the squad for the Ashes.
“The decision may have been influenced by Australia this winter, the fact he had a pretty decent tour there last time,” says Fraser. “It’s going to be different conditions here. I don’t know what the pitch is going to be like at Headingley but you could have a pitch-it-up nibbling pitch.
“These games are going to be challenging for him undoubtedly because of his lack of first-class cricket, the quality of India’s bowlers and the fact he’s probably going to get out there when the ball’s still doing a bit.
“We’ve had selections before, certainly when I was a selector, where you gave a bloke a decent number of games to find out whether they’re up to it or not. You’d like to think they’d give him a decent run. But equally three Test matches is quite a bit as well, more than half a series, so he’ll need to do something for sure.”
Fraser also believes Malan will be motivated by his previous failures in Test cricket, saying: “He’s one of these blokes who always wants to prove people wrong. He’s shown he can perform at international level in T20 cricket. That will give him confidence but he’s still got some work to do to convince everyone he’s a Test player. He’s got one hundred and a Test batting average of 27. But he’s a good cricketer. He has his moments off the field but he’s a good player that’s for sure.”