Dawid Malan is the potato of England’s World Cup team. Hugely underrated, completely reliable, extremely adaptable and easily spiced up.
In a game against Bangladesh that England had to win to kickstart their campaign, after they dropped the spaghetti against New Zealand, he led the charge from the front – a sublime century from a man in sublime form. His
140 off 107 balls was his maiden World Cup hundred and the highest innings of his weirdly brief one-day international career. Of the opening partnership of 115 in 17.5 overs with Jonny Bairstow, it was Malan who had the timing and the brio on a stop-start pitch in beautiful Dharamsala.
Like the humble potato, Malan also seems to have spent much of his career easily forgotten, especially when other more glamorous figures drifted past touting their wares. This was his fourth one-day international century of 2023 and his sixth ODI hundred in 23 innings. Despite this golden touch, in early September he looked at risk of being cut from the final squad as England juggled to contain all their riches. That is until he made himself undroppable with 277 runs at 92.33 in three autumn games against New Zealand and, instead, it was Jason Roy who got the boot.
Malan has never been one to be bashful. Or even particularly tactful. He had words for Ed Smith, then the chairman of selectors, after he was dropped in 2018 for being “better suited to overseas conditions”. He later said Smith had made comments about his technique that “derailed” him. When Malan lost his central contract in 2022 after the 4-0 Ashes drubbing during the last knockings of the Joe Root era, he was equally forthright.
“I feel like I’ve proved my point a hell of a lot before,” he said after being awarded just an incremental deal despite being ranked in the top five of white-ball batters in the world for three years.
And on Tuesday, during his Pplayer‑of‑the‑match interview, he also had a sharp observation or two to make. “It is nice to contribute. It has been a long journey to get to this stage. To get in here is fantastic and to put in a performance and win a game is great.”
He was then asked about struggles against spin. “Sometimes people create a narrative that isn’t there to justify their own writing or views. Sometimes I play a good shot, sometimes I play a bad shot. We don’t have to second‑guess ourselves.”
Malan is extraordinary in many ways, one of them the way his career has evolved in a back‑to‑front style. He was first picked for the Test and ODI teams in 2017, but it wasn’t until 2019 he first got given a go in 50-over cricket – the one format that many observers of his years at Middlesex thought would suit him best. It wasn’t until Matthew Mott took over as England’s one-day coach that he had an extended run in the side – with such immediate success. He now averages 63 in ODIs, an astonishing 74.5 this year.
But it would be wrong to brand him just a run-compiler, a bean counter of the engine room. His repertoire against Bangladesh included dreamy cover drives, slog-sweeps, straight drives and daring wristy aerial flicks. He reached his hundred with a sprinted single and received a standing ovation from his teammates as he pulled off his helmet and allowed himself a small smile.
His knock, at 36 years and 37 days old, makes him England’s oldest World Cup centurion, knocking out old man river Graham Gooch, who was 34 years and 105 days when he swept India out of their own World Cup in the 1987 semi-final. The irony is that, at 36, Malan may find himself missing out on the next set of England contracts as well – as Liam Plunkett did after the triumph of 2019. Much depends on England’s appetite to take an experienced side to the West Indies and US next year to try to retain their T20 title; much depends on their ruthlessness.
But in the meantime, those in the turquoise and yellow blocks of seats, and in the bright red pavilion straight out of toy town, surrounded by the snow‑sprinkled hills of the Himalayas, and the green of the cedar forests, saw an innings to remember. A spud that needed no seasoning.