Dawid Malan managed to force his way into the most competitive T20I starting XIs in the world, his hundred against Australia shows he could do the same in the fifty over format.

As England stepped out onto the field in the T20 World Cup final last week, Dawid Malan sat on the sidelines. Malan was left out of the biggest match of his career after picking up a groin injury earlier in the tournament. After a winner’s medal was hung around his neck and the TV cameras stopped broadcasting, Malan was seen sitting on the pitch alone out in the middle at the MCG.

Given his role in England’s T20I development over the last three years, where he has been ranked the No.1 batter in the world, scored England’s fastest-ever T20I century at the time and forced his way into the most impenetrable white-ball side in the world, missing the culmination of those efforts must have been devastating, despite the silverware.

Just four days later, Malan raised his bat in front of a sparse crowd at the Adelaide Oval, celebrating his second ODI hundred. As the rest of the order collapsed around him looking in the midst of a lingering T20 World Cup hangover, Malan stood firm, going through the gears as the innings progressed and forcing England up towards the 300-mark. He finished on 134, a whole 100 runs more than the next-highest scorer in England’s innings, David Willey.

Speaking after the match, Malan said: “[It was] Tough to miss those two games with all the work you put in over three years. It was gutting. Then to come back here and score a hundred was extremely satisfying.”

For all his international pedigree, Malan’s presence in any England team has never been straightforward. Despite two good away Ashes tours – how many Englishman can say they’ve done that? – he was quickly jettisoned with after the 2021/22 tour. Even ahead of last year’s T20 World Cup when he was one of the form T20I batters in the world he was not assured of his place in the side. In ODIs – what he says is his best format – he has largely been viewed by England as an injury replacement, or a stop-gap while their World Cup stars are rested in between landmark series or major tournaments. But, for all the others in that role like James Vince and Sam Billings, Malan has been the one who has most successfully bridged the gap.

Malan’s route into England’s T20I starting XI began with his first appearance in a full international in 2017. At the age of 29, he put in a typically Malan-esque performance against South Africa, winning the Player of the Match award on debut with a boundary fuelled 78 off 44. His inclusion in that match was due to Eoin Morgan’s decision to rest himself to give fringe players a better shot, namely Liam Livingstone who scored a duck in that match.

It was enough to win Malan another gig in the Trans-Tasman series following the 2017/18 Ashes campaign, in which Malan also scored his maiden Test century. However, there was still no room in the, at that time, fortress-like ODI side in their bilateral series against Australia despite the absence of Ben Stokes.

Despite finishing the tri-series as England’s leading run-scorer with 172 across four matches, there was still no room for him the following summer once Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and co were available for selection again. Only once Malan had scored his blistering hundred against New Zealand on re-call to the T20I side six months later, again in a side without most of England’s star names, was he ‘in’. Finally, his 48-ball hundred with six sixes and nine fours meant England were unable to drop him for an extended period, and by the following summer he was the No.1 ranked batter in the world.

Having successfully bridged the gap between a rest and rotation player and a fully-fledged squad member in the T20I side, Malan is potentially on the brink of doing the same in the ODI format.

His ODI career has much followed the path of his shortest format journey requiring increasing tenacity in the face of constant setbacks. First making his debut against Ireland in 2019 where only Root and Morgan were among the batters who went on to lift the World Cup at Lords two months later, he had to wait a full two years before he was given another go following. An injury to Sam Billings won him selection in India and a fifty in the final match was not enough to retain his place for the summer.

Since then, Malan has been in and out of the squad in search of a performance like he produced against New Zealand in 2019 to cement his place in the first-choice starting XI. His century against the Netherlands this summer was not enough for him to retain his place when Root returned against India and South Africa. Yet today marks his second century in four ODI appearances this year. With Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes retired from the format and Jason Roy’s form in question, Malan is primed to force his way into yet another England World Cup side.

There are still several questions facing England over their best XI ahead of the World Cup, including who bats at four with Stokes currently still officially retired from the format. Malan looks like the obvious choice, but it demeans him to say he only makes the XI because of Stokes’ absence. There is room for him to bat at four, and Stokes at five in the event he un-retires. With Root at three, that’s a middle order which gives enough stability in a tricky chase and enough firepower to advance the strike rate, Buttler and Livingstone at six and seven. There is even the possibility that he opens up top alongside Bairstow should Roy’s form not return.

While another big innings against Australia could go a long way to sealing his place in the XI, in reality, his future depends on how England views him once their current first picks are available for selection. By continuing to treat Malan as a bit-part player, they rob themselves of a worthy talent, and Malan of the career finale he has earnt.