After much speculation surrounding the Yorkshire batsman, whose place in the side had been questioned, England kept faith with a player who is still No 1 in the T20 rankings.
But the issue of whether Malan scores quickly enough at No 3, especially on the slow, spinning surfaces of the United Arab Emirates, where this competition is being played, reared its head regardless as he was shunted down the order like a recalcitrant child and did not bat at all.
Instead, after bowling West Indies out for 55 in just 14.2 overs in the heat of Dubai, Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid taking T20 career-best figures of 4-2 in an excellent display, England sent in four players ahead of Malan in an effort to boost their net run-rate as they closed out a six-wicket win with 70 of the 120 balls remaining – not so much a flogging as a public execution.
The strategy backfired – or at least appeared to make no discernible difference – as Jonny Bairstow scored nine from six balls and Liam Livingstone one from two before both gave return catches to left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein.
Moeen Ali made three from four deliveries before being run-out and captain Eoin Morgan an unbeaten seven from as many balls, Jos Buttler (24 not out from 22) steering the chase after opening partner Jason Roy had popped pace bowler Ravi Rampaul to Chris Gayle at mid-wicket.
It was a slightly confused climax in less than perfect batting conditions, ones which suggest that this will not be an especially high-scoring tournament – bad news for those whose attention spans do not extend beyond every other ball flying for six.
But it was still a nine out of ten performance from Morgan and his players, an emphatic statement of purpose and proficiency, even if Malan’s contribution was effectively confined to a fine back-pedalling catch at mid-wicket to dismiss Gayle for the West Indies’ top score of 13, the self-styled “Universe Boss” – and that in a cosmos containing more than two trillion observable galaxies, by the way – the only man to reach double figures on a dismal night for the humiliated, decidedly mortal-looking holders.
Explaining the decision to hold back Malan (to the point, indeed, where an initially understandable policy surely went too far the other way and threatened to damage the player’s confidence), Morgan admitted net run-rate was key.
“We thought if we got through a couple of overs unscathed (in other words, that England didn’t lose an early wicket), that we would then try and send out guys who could go after the ball a little bit more, but it actually proved tough to get after the ball,” admitted Morgan.
“It didn’t work out as well as we would have liked, but it definitely would have benefited our (net) run-rate.
“We wanted guys to go after the bowling, but that was difficult on that pitch.”
Appraising the overall performance, as England target a T20 and 50-over World Cup double, Morgan added with poker-faced mien: “It’s as good as it gets. To start our campaign like that... all credit to our bowling unit. The guys were very disciplined. I thought we fielded really well and took all our chances.”
The first of those chances was taken by Moeen Ali, named man-of-the-match despite Rashid’s heroics after his four overs first up yielded just 17 runs and produced two wickets, including the rarity of a wicket-maiden during the powerplay.
For before Moeen had Lendl Simmons caught at deep mid-wicket and Shimron Hetmyer held at mid-on, both awful shots that began a sorry theme for West Indies, he took a superb catch running back towards long-on to remove opener Evin Lewis off Chris Woakes, igniting the night.
When Malan snaffled Gayle from the final ball of the powerplay off Tymal Mills, who made an excellent return to the side and took identical figures to Moeen of 2-17 from four overs, West Indies were 31-4 and the tone was set.
England, who were without Yorkshire’s David Willey (not selected) and Mark Wood (yet another ankle problem), made light work of the rest of the line-up as Rashid stole the show.
He bowled Andre Russell with his first delivery and then took two wickets with the first two balls of his second over as Kieron Pollard and Obed McCoy both found long-on.
Rampaul survived the hat-trick delivery by a whisker as it snaked past the edge but Rashid got him in his next over when Rampaul was bowled swinging to leg to finish the innings.
West Indies’ total was the worst by a Test-playing nation at the competition and left captain Pollard suitably chastened.
“There’s no words to explain it,” he said.
“I don’t think we were good enough on all counts.
“Being bundled out for 55 is unacceptable - we accept that, we accept the responsibility.
“We just have to bin it, take it on our chests as big men and move on.” Quite.