Last chance saloon for Dawid Malan: He could be playing for his Test place in the second innings

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Dawid Malan could be playing for his place when he walks out for England


As Dawid Malan dragged himself from the middle, lbw to Mohammed Shami for eight, a dark thought might have crossed his mind. Come England’s second innings, he will probably be playing for his Test place.

That may sound harsh, for a couple of reasons. First, it was not so long ago that Malan was making a vivid 140 at Perth, so often the venue English batsmen go to die. Second, this five-Test series is only a day old.

But one of the early hallmarks of Ed Smith’s tenure as national selector is a willingness to make a tough call. If coach Trevor Bayliss has been accused in the past of taking too long to decide about the virtues of England’s latest Test cricketer, Smith appears to be coaxing him in the other direction.

Dawid Malan could be playing for his place when he walks out for England's second innings

Dawid Malan could be playing for his place when he walks out for England’s second innings

Mohammed Shami trapped the No 4 for eight and sent him walking after another failure

Mohammed Shami trapped the No 4 for eight and sent him walking after another failure

Mohammed Shami trapped the No 4 for eight and sent him walking after another failure

Mohammed Shami trapped the No 4 for eight and sent him walking after another failure

Mohammed Shami trapped the No 4 for eight and sent him walking after another failure

Just ask Mark Stoneman, who was ditched only one game into Smith’s reign after making four and nine against Pakistan at Lord’s at the end of May. It is inconceivable that the 31-year-old Stoneman will be back – and Malan, who turns 31 next month, risks suffering the same fate.

His problem has been an unusual one for an English batsman: he prefers the pace and bounce more common to overseas pitches to the swing and seam usually found at home. His failure here took his Test average in England to 20, as opposed to 35 abroad. For a batsman who plays half his Test innings in this country, it is a shaky basis for a long-term career.

Smith knows as much, which is why Malan was left in no uncertain terms before this series that more is expected of him if he wants to fill the coveted No 4 role. He responded well, making a pair of fifties for England Lions against India A at Worcester. The question, though, is whether that merely papered over the cracks.

Malan has not always been treated impeccably by England. His Twenty20 record boasts four fifties in five innings, yet he couldn’t get a game against Australia or India this summer. And he missed out on a one-day debut because he was obliged to prove his red-ball credentials with the Lions. Both decisions are understood to have irritated him.

It was not so long ago Malan was making 140 at Perth, a bright moment of England's Ashes

It was not so long ago Malan was making 140 at Perth, a bright moment of England's Ashes

It was not so long ago Malan was making 140 at Perth, a bright moment of England’s Ashes

Yet there is no escaping the fact that his predominantly back-foot game is in danger of holding him back. Because if it is clearly suited to Australia, where he was England’s top-scorer during the winter, and South Africa, where England will next tour in 2019-20, then it leaves him vulnerable elsewhere.

Since this winter’s tours are to Sri Lanka and the West Indies, both of which produce pitches favouring the front-foot batsman, Malan’s prospects are not obviously bright.

His dismissal on the first day of this series was a case in point. In the second over of a new spell from Shami, he pulled him fine for four. But that is one of his shots, and when Shami pitched fuller in his next over, Malan was rooted to the crease. Like Gary Ballance before him, he is giving the ball every chance to move off the seam.

He asked for a review, which seemed fair enough to the naked eye. But the ball-tracking technology suggested umpire’s call both on impact and height, so umpire Chris Gaffanay’s decision remained. When you’re in need of runs, those are the breaks.

If Malan fails in the second innings here, further eroding a Test average of 28, there is every chance he’ll follow Stoneman back to county cricket. And that would mean yet another rearrangement for England’s batting line-up. The trick will be to ensure their middle-order options do not begin to resemble the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Surrey's young hope Ollie Pope is one who has been touted to take Malan's place in the side

Surrey's young hope Ollie Pope is one who has been touted to take Malan's place in the side

Surrey’s young hope Ollie Pope is one who has been touted to take Malan’s place in the side

Moeen Ali might have replaced Malan here, but will return for the second Test at Lord’s. That, though, will be in place of Ben Stokes, who will be facing charges of affray in Bristol. Which leaves another place up for grabs.

With Smith more inclined to be bold than conservative, that could pave the way for the highly-rated 20-year-old Ollie Pope, who has averaged 85 this summer while Surrey have threatened to run away with the championship.

Pope made an unbeaten 50 in the second innings of the Lions game against India A, and has inched ahead of Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke, who netted at Edgbaston on Wednesday. Selection at Lord’s would allow him 11 Tests to bed in before next summer’s Ashes.

It’s a harsh game that can think of discarding a player so early in a major series, but the early signs of Smith’s tenure are that sentiment is low down his list of priorities. When England bat again, Malan may need to pull out the innings of his life.

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