hen England returned to their team hotel last night, after Bangladesh’s reassuring dismantling in Dharamshala, they were greeted with a cake to cut, in what is a familiar celebratory ritual among teams of the Indian Premier League.
Given that he had been brought on stage by his captain, the then designer of the century, Dawid Malan, did not seem very enthusiastic, aware, probably, that the dessert would soon be used to redecorate his face.
But even as he stumbled near the entrance, desperately trying to tear the eyelets from his frozen mask, he would surely have admitted that of all his victories in the England jersey, this one tasted particularly sweet.
The story of Malan’s curious international career is now well told: late on the scene and, one way or another, always the first to be removed.
Often he was judged not by how many points he scored, but by how he scored them, not without reason, but usually with greater scrutiny than was afforded to his sexier rivals.
Having played no part in the 2019 triumph, he looked like a child peering through a candy store window, even once he began working behind the counter, putting out creams. rhubarb in paper bags.
Today, however, it’s Malan’s team – not in the sense that he’s the dominant figure, but in the sense that he’s literally in it and staying there, no longer needing to spend every minute to look over his shoulder, despite everything. Looks like old habits are going to die hard.
“(There’s) maybe a little bit of hunger,” Malan said, after his maiden Cricket World Cup century delivered a 137-run victory that put the group stage campaign back into shape. England on the right track. “I’m desperate to do well in this format and prove that I deserve to be in the team.”
The message was similar when Malan spoke at Lord’s last month, fresh from scoring a hundred against New Zealand, which finally put an end to the lingering debate over his World Cup place. As former England batter Mark Butcher put it on yesterday’s Wisden podcast, he has since “put it in and given it a cup of Horlicks”.
A century from 91 balls was his fastest in an ODI, barring the buffet in Holland last summer. Crucially, given past criticism of some rough starts, this also came via his fastest 50, as he played first aggressor in an opening stand of 115 with Jonny Bairstow, a promising sign for this which is yet another new partnership. Between hitting three figures and missing, he added 40 more off just 16 balls.
More broadly, it’s now six hundreds in 17 ODI innings since the start of last summer, all in different countries, and four already this calendar year, a record for an Englishman with at least seven matches to come.
At Lord’s, Malan shared his theory that only the freaks and the most consistent could break into this team. But today he combines the two.