There are 100’s in Test Match cricket and there are 100’s. No two are ever the same. Whilst, the batsman can only play what is being bowled to him, some are clearly a little harder earned and feature a little higher up in the ‘difficult’ stakes.
None are arguably much higher than walking to the crease when your side are three wickets down on the opening day of a Test Match in Australia, with your team two Tests down in The Ashes, facing an ignominious series defeat before even getting to the Melbourne Test on Boxing Day.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” and yesterday that man was Dawid Malan, making 110 not out, rescuing his team and potentially keeping the series alive. He could not have done it without his chief accomplice, Jonny Bairstow, who finished the day unbeaten on 75, having shared an unbroken 5th wicket stand of 174, but the day quite rightly belonged to Malan.
At the age of 30 he is a relative latecomer to Test Cricket, but if you are good enough, age can be immaterial. He has had a chequered First Class career, punctuated with periods of brilliance and huge run scoring and then others of huge mediocrity. He has always been a supreme ball striker and feared in the one day game, which has led to his selection for a couple of Twenty 20 franchises around the World, and ultimately the England one day side earlier this year.
On his one day debut he made a highly promising 78 off 44 balls which suddenly made the cricketing world stand up and take notice. Not a bad start in International cricket, showing all the hallmarks of a confident player who was not fazed by playing in front of a huge crowd with all eyes upon him. All of a sudden he was being talked about for the Test team in the troubled number 5 spot, albeit his record in the longer form of the game was not particularly outstanding despite having a good run in recent times for the England Lions.
He could be likened to his Middlesex colleague Eoin Morgan, a fellow left hander, who excels in the one day form of the game but never quite had the temperament or composure to fulfil his potential in the arguably more pressured environment of Test Match cricket.
Yet Malan is a little different. He has had to wait far longer for his chance. He was not going to waste it. His Test career thus far, all 7 matches of it, has been hard work. He had made 3 half centuries coming into this match and, for the most part, had grafted hard, rarely thrown his wicket away, shown good temperament, but had never quite been able to show the sort of fluency or control that his talent and history shows that he is capable of…..until yesterday.
When he strode to the wicket, England were in big trouble. In his favour, the track was good, fast and true. Against him, the match situation, the series situation and the speed of the fired up Australian bowlers. He decided to match fire with fire, not recklessly but in a controlled manner, one top edged six apart, and was positive right from the outset. He did not want to be dominated, as he has been for the most part in this series, but to take the attack to his foes. He stood up and played some glorious cover drives, like poetry in motion; a few delicate late cuts, only possible for a real ‘touch’ player and a some powerful pulls to the leg side fence.
It was one such pull to the boundary which brought up his hundred, the first from an Englishman in this series and vindicating the selectors’ original decision to bring him into the Test Match arena and to continue to have faith in him despite his relative lack of big scores.
It was a magical moment. He spoke afterwards of the emotion of that moment when the ball crossed the boundary ropes, and understandably so. Sport can be full of emotion because it means so much and even his most avid supporters could be excused a fist pump and a few silent tears, knowing how much that it would have meant to him, especially with his parents there too to witness the moment.
Yet sport can be so cruel too. He could have been dismissed on 92 when, with the first delivery of the new ball, he pushed tentatively at a ball on off stump from `Mitchell Starc that flew to third slip where Cameron Bancroft ‘downed’ a very catchable chance. If he had taken it then this would just have been a very good innings and his team may have lost another wicket or two before close of play and the match could have a very different complexion.
Success or failure in sport can rest on such fine margins. Maybe Malan deserved his one slice of good fortune. After all, he has worked very hard, meticulously so many say, at improving his game to try and make the most of this opportunity that he has been given. He has grafted all series and has been a little unlucky at some of the modes of his dismissal, often due to some extremely high quality fast and spin bowling from the Australians, where many a more proven Test cricketer would have fallen too. It could be argued that he had earned the right and sometimes sport has a funny way of delivering.
Yet he cannot rest on his laurels and he does not appear to be the man who would. However, cricket, and indeed sport as a whole, can often bring an individual back down to earth with a bump, and very quickly too. He must beware, and battle twice as hard today.
For all the huge positives of the first day in Perth, England still remain in a precarious position in terms of the series as a whole and, given their propensity to collapse spectacularly, it is crucial that Malan and / or Bairstow continue where they left off and make another big score today.
There is no doubt that Malan was magnificent yesterday, the king of the wild frontier where he stood and delivered. Yet can he be England’s ‘Prince Charming’ once more? Day two is nearly upon us……