Dawid Malan returned to the scene of his first-class debut to help England claim a low-scoring four-wicket win over South Africa, sealing the Twenty20 series with one match to spare and further underlining his own value to the side.
The left-hander started out as a Boland player in 2006 before a gap-year back in London, the city of his birth, led to a professional contract with Middlesex and a career that has since seen him rise to No 1 in the world T20 batting rankings.
That impressive run in the shortest format continued on this homecoming of sorts, with Malan’s 40-ball 55 – his ninth 50-plus score in 18 outings – helping to chase a target of 147. It came on a turgid pitch that sat in contrast to the fertile soil of Paarl’s surrounding vineyards.
Though Malan fell in the 18th over of a tight chase – caught brilliantly on the rope by Reeza Hendricks when attempting a second successive six – he had broken the back of it, grinding out 29 from 31 balls while the power-hitters perished, before hammering 26 from his next nine.
There was clear regret at not closing out the chase but Eoin Morgan, who put on 53 with Malan, was still there at the end, on 26 from 17 balls, as Chris Jordan pinched the winning runs off Kagiso Rabada with a ball to spare.
“Absolutely zero,” replied Malan afterwards, when asked how much local knowledge had helped. “That wicket played so different to what I’m used to here. It was slow and really difficult to time the ball.
“It was nice to be back but it would have been fantastic to have a crowd in and my parents here, although my high-school coach was one of the guys throwing the ball back when it went over the boundary for six.”
Adil Rashid’s two for 23 had earlier been the feature spell in restricting South Africa to 146 for six. But Tabraiz Shamsi, the left-arm wrist-spinner who enjoys a spot of amateur magic in his spare time, conjured three of his own as Jos Buttler (22), Jonny Bairstow (4) and Ben Stokes (16) tried to clear the rope.
Having arrived at the crease after England lost Jason Roy for 14 – caught off Lungi Ngidi trying to thrash himself into form – Malan first needed to ride an early storm, wearing painful blows to both shoulder and thigh as Anrich Nortje, the fast bowler who hit 97mph during the Indian Premier League, let rip.
Beyond a show of courage under fire from Malan, this was the kind of gimlet-eyed performance against spinners that may be required at next year’s T20 World Cup in India. Not that the 33-year-old is taking anything for granted. “I’m proud I’ve been able to be consistent in this team but this game has a way to bring you down to earth if you get ahead of yourself,” said Malan. “You can talk about selectors or talk about coaches but Eoin Morgan is the man who matters in terms of who plays for the team.
“I really enjoy batting with him. My strengths are his weaknesses and vice-versa. If they shut him down, it opens up my areas. We’ve had a couple of good partnerships.”
An azure blue sky and the Haweqwa mountains in the distance made for a stunning Sunday in Paarl, ideal for supporters to enjoy a beer and a braai on the grass banks had the pandemic not made this a behind-closed-doors series.
It was Jofra Archer who set the tone for England first thing, detonating Temba Bavuma’s stumps with a 93mph scorcher and going at four and a half an over. Rashid was also immaculate in a spell that saw the recalled Hendricks bowled on the sweep for 16 and Faf du Plessis stumped off a beautiful looping leg-break that had the former captain groping at fresh air.
With Jordan having earlier extinguished an early blitz from Quinton de Kock (30 from 18) to draw level with Stuart Broad’s England record of 65 T20 victims, a Tom Curran slower ball then fooled Heinrich Klaasen to leave the home side 95 for five in the 14th over and in need of a telling stand.
Rassie van der Dussen and George Linde did combine for 44 but after the latter’s run-out at the end of the 19th over, following an initial misfield by Stokes, the target seemed light. Not that England had it easy thereafter.