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What should we expect from Dawid Malan’s second coming as an England Test cricketer?

dawid malan
Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

Dawid Malan was the most eye-catching name in England’s 15-man squad for the third Test of their ongoing series against India.

Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley paid the price for England’s dramatic dip in top-order returns and will return to their counties. Malan, a regular in England’s T20I set-up, is set to make his first Test appearance in three years at Headingley as England look to level the series.

So, what should we expect from Malan’s second coming as a Test cricketer?

Malan made his Test debut in similar circumstances back in 2017. Going into the 2017 Oval Test, England had won just one of their last eight Tests and top order runs, like they are now, were a problem. His 15 Tests yielded 724 runs at 27.84, with the standout performance coming at Perth where a century briefly prolonged England’s Ashes hopes.

It was his relative success that tour that earmarked Malan as a contender for this winter’s Ashes series; Malan passed 50 four times in nine innings and ended the series as England’s leading run-scorer. Despite putting a good account for himself Down Under, he was dropped three Tests into the following summer after a succession of failures at home to Pakistan and India.

After his axing in 2018, England national selector Ed Smith – despite never recalling Malan thereafter – outlined Malan’s overseas credentials, saying: “In an England shirt, one of the things he has done distinctively is play very well in very alien conditions so I wanted to reaffirm to him that one of the things we are looking at is having the right players for the right conditions.”

Given his record in Australia, it is possible that England had long planned to bring Malan back for this winter’s Ashes and that those plans have been accelerated due to the extent of England’s top-order travails in 2021 – after all, both Crawley and Sibley average below 20 in Test cricket this year.

But Malan does not fare much better on English soil. In eight home Tests, he averages a fraction over 20 – the third lowest of an English specialist batsman to play six or more home Tests this century, only James Vince and Keaton Jennings average less.

That said, Malan’s first-class record since his first iteration as a Test cricketer is markedly better than his performances in the years leading up to his Test debut. In 2019, Malan averaged 48.13 across a full season in the County Championship and although he has played just four first-class matches since the start of 2020, he averages 88.50 in that period.

Like the majority of England’s cross-format stars, Malan is short on recent red-ball match practice. Owing to his IPL and England commitments earlier this year, he has batted just once in first-class cricket this year , falling one short of a double hundred against a Sussex attack featuring three teenagers and a 20-year-old.

The most obvious difference between 2018 Malan and 2021 Malan is his general international experience. Malan has been a regular in the England T20I side over the past two years, is currently ranked top of the T20I batting rankings and is a certainty to make England’s squad for the T20 World Cup later this year.

The timing of his recall is unlikely to be what England initially planned earlier in the year, but given the dramatic loss of form for both Sibley and Crawley, and the paucity of obvious replacements in the county game, Malan’s recall is the obvious move, even if success is far from guaranteed.

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