Dawid Malan can make the transition from fringe player to T20 fulcrum on Tuesday as England seek to protect their new status as the world’s No 1 team with a rejigged top order against Australia.
The decision by vice-captain Jos Buttler, who inspired England to a series-clinching 2-0 lead on Sunday with a blistering unbeaten 77, to leave the team bubble early and spend time with his family means Malan will come in after an opening pair of Jonny Bairstow and Tom Banton – with both players looking to push the injured Jason Roy for the chance to become Buttler’s permanent opening partner.
Health checks permitting, Buttler will return in time for the three-match one-day series starting in Manchester on Friday.
Dawid Malan hopes to cement his place in England’s top order in T20 clash with Australia
But with ECB medical staff monitoring the state of Eoin Morgan’s right ring finger after it was dislocated in the field during England’s six-wicket win at the weekend, there is an outside chance the captaincy could pass to Moeen Ali for the first time in his career.
England were hopeful that Morgan, who batted on Sunday with the injury, will be fit to complete the series, but Buttler’s absence – and Banton’s promotion – leaves a slot free in the middle order for one of Sam Billings, Joe Denly or reserve batsman Liam Livingstone to fill. Billings must be favourite after batting at No 6 in the recent series against Pakistan.
The in-form batsman is expected to start at No 3 in the final match of the series
Whatever the extent of England’s reshuffle, there will be onus on Malan to build on a remarkable T20 record that has left him with the highest batting average – 50.84 – in the history of the game. Even India’s genius Virat Kohli, by 0.04 of a run, has been left in his wake.
Malan’s contributions to England’s two wins over Australia – 66 off 43 balls and 42 off 37 – mean he has passed 50 in eight of his 15 T20 internationals. And he has done it all at a strike-rate of almost 148 (Kohli’s strike-rate is 10 fewer). Yet debate remains over whether he is a peripheral player forever trying to catch his captain’s eye, or a shoo-in for the World Cup starting in India next year.
‘When you get limited opportunities, you have to make full use of them,’ said Malan. ‘So to do that when you’re under pressure is very satisfying. For anyone to break in to this team, you have to be extremely consistent and win games of cricket for England.
‘Hopefully I’ve ticked a few boxes that Eoin and the selectors want, and I can keep building on this. I’m aware that guys like Jason [Roy] and Stokesy will come back at some point, and it’s my job to score as many runs as I can put pressure on them and Morgs and the selectors.
Match-winner Jos Buttler has withdrawn from the England squad to spend time with his family
‘I don’t think I’m anywhere near as good as Virat Kohli and those guys, even though the numbers sort of suggest that. But if I keep scoring runs at the rate I’m scoring at, hopefully it will make it hard for them to ignore what I’m doing and I can somehow find a way into that starting XI.’
Just about the only nitpick about Malan’s batting is that he tends to eat up a few balls early in his innings. It’s a subject he is aware of.
‘It’s something I’ve spoken to Morgs about before this series. I said: “Look, is there something you want me to do differently?” And he said: “The way you play is exactly how we want you to play. You just keep doing what you’re doing.”
‘The man that matters is Eoin Morgan, and if he’s happy with the way I’m approaching it, then that’s good enough for me.’
Malan says his batting approach has pleased ‘the man that matters’, captain Eoin Morgan
With the T20 rankings updated after every game, England will have spent little more than 48 hours at the top if they lose on Tuesday – though it wasn’t immediately obvious whether Australia’s descent to No 2 was yet to register with the tourists’ dressing-room.
‘We certainly take pride in being the No 1 side in the world,’ said spinner Ashton Agar. ‘That will spur us on.’ Australia can yet leave these shores on top of the rankings. But whatever happens on Tuesday, England have given them pause for thought.
England: 1 Jonny Bairstow (wkt), 2 Tom Banton, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Moeen Ali, 6 Sam Billings, 7 Tom Curran, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Jofra Archer, 11 Mark Wood.
Australia: 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steve Smith, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Alex Carey (wkt), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Kane Richardson, 11 Adam Zampa.