Cricket Expert & Columnist
Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali - who should be England's number three at the T20 World Cup?
Dawid Malan's innings of 76 from 48 balls propelled England to an 89-run victory against Sri Lanka at the Ageas Bowl, sealing a 3-0 T20I series victory; watch the first ODI between England and Sri Lanka on Tuesday, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 10am
Last Updated: 27/06/21 9:12am
Dawid Malan "fully deserves" to retain his place in England's top three going into the T20 World Cup, according to Sky Sports pundit Michael Atherton.
Malan - who is the ICC's top-ranked batsman in the shortest format - underlined his worth by top-scoring with 76 from 48 balls as England hammered Sri Lanka by 89 runs at the Ageas Bowl to clinch a 3-0 series victory.
The 33-year-old moved up to open following Jos Buttler's injury and the decision to rest Jason Roy, and shared an explosive stand of 105 with Jonny Bairstow - England's first three-figure opening partnership in T20 cricket since 2013.
Although he is likely to revert to first wicket down when England have everyone available, Atherton believes Malan should be viewed as the man in possession of that spot as England prepare for the World T20 tournament later this year.
"He didn't get any strike early on and started slowly, as he often does, but then he catches up," said Atherton. "You cannot quibble with Dawid Malan's figures.
"I don't think you can quibble with what he's done over the last couple of years and England will keep faith with him until they get to a point where they're not.
"He's played superbly, fully deserves his place in the side and he'll be first choice at number three."
Fellow Sky Sports pundit Nasser Hussain agreed that Malan merits that status, having scored 11 half-centuries and one hundred in his 27 T20 international appearances since making his debut four years ago against South Africa.
But, should the left-hander suffer a notable dip in form between now and the start of the World T20, Hussain would favour promoting all-rounder Ben Stokes to the number-three position instead.
"Ask me who deserves to be number three at the moment - it's Dawid Malan, so it's about giving the right to the lad who has done brilliantly," said Hussain.
"He was fastest to 1,000 T20 runs, he averages 50 and has a very good strike rate. Dawid Malan deserves the right to stay at three.
"Because the others have been so excellent, Ben Stokes does absolutely fine coming in at five or six and just bowling a couple of overs and being brilliant in the field.
"If the others were not doing their job, you'd say, 'hold on, you're wasting Ben Stokes'. I'd like to see Ben given a role further up the order but that'd mean breaking up a top order that's done very well.
"The only position it could be - and it's remarkable we even talk about this man because he's still number one in the world in T20 - is Dawid Malan. But it'd be about him playing himself out of the side as opposed to moving Ben up there."
Atherton, however, feels another experienced all-rounder, Moeen Ali - who returned to the England side for the final match of the Sri Lanka series - would be a better option at three if Malan were forced out by injury or loss of form.
"It's not necessarily a given that if you do make a change, Ben Stokes is the man," he added. "You could also push Bairstow up, who has been an outstanding player at the top of the order.
"The problem there is that, if you have right-handers at one, two, three and you have a whole raft of left-handers in the middle order. That's not necessarily an advantage, as we saw in India on slower pitches.
"I think I could make a very good argument for Moeen Ali at three in place of Ben Stokes, particularly if the World T20 is going to be held in the United Arab Emirates and spin is going to be a factor.
"If you look at performances in the Indian Premier League, between Stokes and Moeen Ali, and look at their strike rates and boundary count, then purely on the numbers you'd go with Moeen."
Watch the first one-day international of the three-match series between England and Sri Lanka, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 10.30am on Tuesday.