Malan made England’s first century of the series and the team showed that, whatever mistakes they have made in Australia, whatever challenges they have faced on and off the field, their spirit remains strong.
Placed under pressure on a fast wicket by a fearsome display of short-pitched, England stood firm. Captain Joe Root was furious when opener Mark Stoneman was controversially given out on review, banging his fist against a door, but was in a much better mood at the close, as the shadows crept across the outfield.
Malan was dropped on 92 but made the most of his good luck to finish 110 not out, as England reached stumps 305/4, with Jonny Bairstow justifying his promotion to No6 with an unbeaten 75. Finally, Australia have something to think about and Root should be as chipper this evening as he was after winning the toss.
Root chose to bat and teased the television presenter, Mark Nicholas, for calling England’s record-breaking opening batsman ‘Alastair Root’ as he interviewed the current skipper in the middle.
The former captain – Alastair Cook, to name him correctly – was presented with a commemorative cap and plaque before play, but there would be no joy for him at the start of his 150th Test, as he was late on a full delivery from Mitchell Starc and lbw for seven. The former skipper has made only 69 runs in five innings in the series.
As he did in the second innings at Adelaide, Mark Stoneman scored quickly, finding the boundary early on. He and James Vince took the score to 89 for one on the cusp of lunch before Vince was yet again caught behind the wicket, this time by ‘keeper Tim Paine off Josh Hazlewood.
Stoneman was two short of a half-century at lunch, though he had been challenged by the short delivery, with one from Starc making his bat handle bend in cartoon fashion. After the interval, it would get worse, as Hazlewood subjected Stoneman to a ferocious examination of his technique and courage.
Stoneman had reached 52 when Mitchell Marsh, preferred to Peter Handscomb in this Test, spilled a simple chance at first slip off Hazlewood. The mistake made Hazlewood angry, and the first delivery of his next over crashed into Stoneman’s helmet, dislodging a part of it.
The Australian fielders were quick to check on Stoneman, who was also assessed at length by England’s medical team on the outfield. When he was allowed to continue, Hazlewood produced a second vicious bouncer that looped just short of cover. Clearly rattled, Stoneman played and missed at a full delivery, but somehow survived the over, before losing his captain in the next.
Root had breezed to 20 when he tried to turn Pat Cummins off his hips and was caught behind down the leg side. When Dawid Malan walked to the crease, Australia carried on with the rough stuff, finally ending Stoneman’s innings for 56, in controversial circumstances.
Australia were convinced yet another Starc bumper had kissed Stoneman’s glove; umpire Marais Erasmus did not agree, even though Stoneman looked a little guilty.
Steve Smith called instantly for the review and even though Snicko indicated a noise when the ball passed the glove, it was hard to see how Aleem Dar, the TV umpire, had enough evidence to overturn Erasmus’ decision. It was not even apparent whether Stoneman’s hand had been holding the bat when the ball touched it.
So when Dar reversed Erasmus’ call, the mood on the England balcony darkened. Root aimed a punch at the door but checked himself before he could make a serious impression on the glass.
Later, the captain shook his head and gestured at the screen, clearly angry. England have been unconvinced by the way DRS has been used in this serious and Stoneman’s dismissal will only increase their frustration.
England were 131 for four and were stumbling like a student after a few too many shots. But Malan took on the short ball, riding his luck at times but earning rewards for his willingness to risk.
He combined the streaky strokes – a top-edged six off Starc – with some marvellous shots off the front foot, against the seamers, and the off-spin of Nathan Lyon. Malan found a perfect partner in Bairstow, who batted with class and character.
The wicketkeeper played with great maturity, prepared to be cautious when the bowler was on top, then to take advantage when conditions for scoring improved.
When Australia took the new ball after 81 overs, Malan had 92, Bairstow 59 and the pair had added 140 for the fifth wicket, England’s highest stand of the series. Starc found swing instantly, Malan played across the line and the ball flew into the cordon, where neither Steve Smith at second slip nor Cameron Bancroft at third could take the catch.
Malan made the most of it and reached his century with a pull for four off Hazlewood. Whatever happens on Friday, it is a moment he will never forget.