Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
Harry Brook was back in the pavilion, a restless 10 off 15 taking his series tally to an unconvincing 37 from three innings. Jason Roy was leaning on the pitch-side bench below the England balcony, a dicky back keeping him out of this final ODI against New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Dawid Malan, very much the third party when this selectorial ménage à trois first presented itself a few weeks ago, raised his bat and helmet in their general direction after coming through for his fifth ODI hundred. And just like that, the narrative finally shifted in Malan's favour.
It had been coming. Laments of a Brook-less provisional World Cup squad had gone quiet, partly because the point had been made, partly because of the run of low scores. But the focus on who he might replace fixed strongest on Malan. Roy, a hero of 2019, coming into this series as the team's leading 50-over run-scorer since that triumph, looked set. Though a loss of T20 form had seen him miss out on 2022's T20 World Cup, a second successive snub felt unjustified on form, and unnecessarily cruel on feel.
But with Roy unable to take the field once again against New Zealand, an uncomfortable sense of waiting for Malan to fail has dissipated. Malan himself was all too aware of that sentiment. Asked if it had fuelled this absurd run, capped off with 127 off 114 deliveries to give him 277 runs at an average of 92.33 in the last seven days, he offered a telling, "Maybe."
Malan continued: "It's satisfying from my point of view to be able to silence some people who have always got some negative things to say. But that's the game - my job is to score runs and as long as I can keep doing that, hopefully I can keep the support from inside the changing room, because I always felt backed from the guys that matter inside there.
"I need to be careful - I'm probably going to give another good headline here. It is what it is. I guess when you try and break into a team as good as this white-ball team has been with the Roots, the Stokes, the Bairstows, Roys, Buttlers - it's incredibly tough and you have to score runs. I guess whenever there is a spot under scrutiny it's always going to be the guys pushing for those spots, and that's just the territory because those guys have been so good for so many years. All I can do is score runs and hope that that matters."
Scores of 54 and 96 restated his worth, missing the second ODI in between for the birth of his son. Such was the appetite to not let a moment slip, he made himself available for The Oval after Dawid Johannes Malan V arrived earlier than the September 12 due date. Both Buttler and head coach Matthew Mott offered Malan time at home, but both he and his partner decided against it.
"Speaking to my wife as well, we thought it was the right thing to come back and try and push for this, score some runs and secure your spot for that World Cup," Malan said, having just been handed both the player of the match and the series award, and a Hamley's bag with a cuddly panda for his son - a gift from a cousin who was in attendance at Lord's. "Thankfully, it's come off and I think I'm on babysitting duties when I turn up."
Friday's knock ticked plenty of boxes: carrying England to an insurmountable total, taking him past a thousand runs in the format, and getting his name on the honour's board at Lord's, which he feels he did not do enough in 13 years here as a Middlesex player. Only three other ODI batters have reached four figures in fewer than his 21 innings, and just Quinton De Kock and Imam-ul-Haq registered five centuries across that same span.
"You either have to be an absolute freak or you have to be so consistent you keep your name in the hat," Malan said of his England status. "I've had to be that consistent one, and thankfully I've been able to do that at times in my career."
It's worth noting Malan outshone the freaks this time. Much like the innings at The Oval, he pushed the envelope, this time without Ben Stokes hogging the limelight at the other end - the allrounder safely packed away after emphatically marking his unretirement on Wednesday.
The scorecard tells a pretty comprehensive story: the next highest scorers were Glenn Phillips (41) and Rachin Ravindra, while Jos Buttler was the only other English batter to make it past 30. Brook's laboured final audition did not look as bad set against Joe Root's peculiar 29 off 40 deliveries. Never has England's generational great looked so out of touch, dropped twice, on 7 and 8. But it at least served to highlight just how in command Malan was.
He was better than a run-a-ball for most of his knock, providing 36 of England's 56 in the Power Play. The half-century came off 50, the full one off 96, albeit with a fortuitous edge just beyond a diving Tom Latham behind the stumps which took him from 95 to 99. That was one of the few missteps in a dominant knock, until he reached for a wide delivery from Ravindra and edged behind. Even then, it was a minor victory for the left-arm spinner, who had been carted for one of Malan's three sixes, all swatted into the stands at midwicket.
From Buttler and Mott's point of view, what awkwardness there has been in the build-up to this World Cup has at least given them one dead cert 20 days out from their opener in Ahmedabad against New Zealand. For all the legacy of Roy and limitless potential of Brook, Malan has funnelled the pressure productively to highlight the value of being a man of the present among ones of the past and future.
It now seems likely Roy will be added to the Ireland squad to get a hit in the first of three matches, with the first ODI taking place in Leeds on Wednesday. Brook is already part of the squad, setting us up for one last bunfight before the World Cup 15 is ratified next week.
"When I got the call I was told 'you're going to the World Cup', you know," Malan said. "Then obviously there's a little bit of noise leading up to it, but that's part and parcel of World Cups and how we're going to the World Cup. That's being a professional cricketer. Until you're on the plane, you never really know if you're on it or not."
Well, Malan has silenced that noise as far as he is concerned, and can go ahead and print his boarding pass for that flight to India on September 27.