It seems an awfully long time ago now that this one-day series against New Zealand began with England’s makeshift opening partners walking to the crease for what was billed as the start of a shootout for one World Cup place.
Four matches later, though, and despite having missed one of those for the birth of his second child, Malan’s place not only on the plane to India, but in England’s first-choice XI, could hardly feel more secure.
A century here at Lord’s put a deserved seal on what has been a clutch run of form at the moment of peak scrutiny, setting up the 100-run victory that secures a 3-1 triumph and, following previous scores of 54 and 96, earned Malan player of the series honours to boot.
On an afternoon when no other England batter passed 40, nor timed the ball anything like as well, the 36-year-old’s crisp 127 from 114 balls anchored a total of 311 for nine, before four wickets from Moeen Ali saw the Black Caps skittled inside 39 overs.
This was the Malan’s fifth ODI hundred, each of them coming in successive series against different rivals across the course of the last 15 months. Crucially, it was also his second opening the batting, where he now looks nailed to start the World Cup after Jason Roy was once again kept out of action by a bad back.
Roy has not featured at all in this series and while he could yet be offered some pre-World Cup game-time as part of the second-string side that face Ireland from next week, England must now be having doubts about the viability of sticking with a player whose form was already a question before fitness became one, too.
As a spare batter, Harry Brook would offer more flexibility in a 15-man tournament squad but the 24-year-old, still outside it for now, has not been short on opportunity in this series, doubling his career ODI appearance tally, and has flattered to deceive. Brought in here for the rested Ben Stokes, and this time in a more natural position at No4, the Yorkshireman could make only 10 before hitting Rachin Ravindra’s straight to midwicket, the spinner’s short delivery the kind Brook usually puts away.
On a tricky surface, he was not alone in coming unstuck against Ravindra, who claimed four wickets, including that of Joe Root at the end of a scratchy knock in which England’s most naturally gifted batter was again left searching hopelessly for rhythm. Dropped twice on his way to 29 from 40 balls, most telling was that in three attempts at his trademark reverse-scoop, Root could not even lay bat on ball.
Malan was having no such trouble, passing 1,000 career ODI runs with a flat six nailed square, before his first misstep, an outside edge that just evaded Tom Latham’s dive, brought the boundary that took him to 99. Three figures came soon after, off 96 balls, before he, too, succumbed to Ravindra, but some hefty blows from a strong tail took the hosts to a total that looked a fair click above par.
It had been a costly innings for New Zealand, whose dressing room at the break must have resembled a scene from M*A*S*H. Daryl Mitchell, Ben Lister and substitute fielder Finn Allen had all had to seek either temporary or permanent sanctuary after injuries in the field, while, worst of all, Tim Southee suffered a fracture and dislocation of his right thumb when dropping Root, an injury that now has his World Cup participation in doubt.
Chasing 312 for the consolation of a series draw, New Zealand lost wickets at intervals too regular to threaten.
The squeeze was applied by the spin combination Liam Livingstone and Moeen, who was at one stage on a hat-trick after dismissing Kyle Jamieson and Matt Henry in successive balls, before Sam Curran ended Ravindra’s entertaining cameo of 61 from 48 balls.