WHEN DEV RIPPED THROUGH ‘EM
South Africa blown away at the Oval in ’94
There was precious little to cheer for English cricket in the Nineties but on one glorious day in the South London sunshine, Devon Malcolm put a smile on the face of every cricket lover in the country – as long as they weren’t supporting South Africa.
So famous have Malcolm’s deeds become in the Oval Test of 1994 that he even named his autobiography after the words he uttered followed a blow to the head by a Fanie de Villiers.
As South Africa’s slip cordon watched on and chuckled, Malcolm – the most unassuming of fast bowlers – simply turned to them and said:“You guys are history.”
After a dismal showing in the tourists’ first innings, when Malcolm took 1-81 and found himself treated with something approaching disdain by South Africa’s tail-enders, they could have been forgiving for laughing it off as an empty threat.
“He got a rollicking from Mike Atherton (the then England captain) after that,” says former England wicketkeeper, Steve Rhodes, currently in Bangladesh working with England under Trevor Bayliss.
“Athers wanted him to bounce Allan Donald and De Villiers but he kept pitching the ball up and getting driven down the ground.”
Atherton’s bowlers were getting used to being put to the sword by a South African side on their first Test tour of England since 1965. Hammered by Kepler Wessels’ side by 365 runs at Lord’s, England’s bowlers hadn’t dismissed the Proteas for under 330 in four innings that summer as a South African side short on aesthetics, but long on determination and patience, dominated.
England, in contrast, had struggled to cope with the unrelenting hostility of Donald and nagging consistency of De Villiers, Craig Matthews and Brian McMillan.
It had also been an uncomfortable series for the captain, with the ‘dirt in the pocket’ affair at Lord’s overshadowing South Africa’s triumphant return to St John’s Wood.
By the time the evening session of the third and final Test rolled around, England were staring down the barrel.
“I think we were 200 odd for seven when I walked out, about 130 behind,” says Phil DeFreitas.“Keith Fletcher, the England coach, told me to see if I could see things out until the end of the day.
“Just as I was leaving the changing room, Ray Illingworth (the then chairman of selectors) told me to just go out and play my natural game.
“By the time I met Goughie (Darren Gough) in the middle we had both decided to have a bit of fun.”
Cheered on by an Oval crowd who had clearly been enjoying their beers in the sun after a brief rain delay that morning, the pair wrestled the initiative from South Africa for the first time in the series, taking liberties with Donald and giving Wessels some long-overdue cause for head-scratching.
“The crowd were loving it,” says DeFreitas.“It was one of those passages of play that really sticks with you. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and it gave us the momentum we needed to get stuck into them with the ball.”
DeFretais scored 37 off just 31 balls, while Gough remained undefeated on 42 as England pulled up just 28 short of South Africa’s first innings total of 332. Malcolm was the last man out but was more concerned with his treatment at the hands of South Africa’s bowlers than his dismissal.
“He was fizzing,” says Rhodes.“You could tell that when he was marking out his run. I remember when he caught and bowled Gary Kirsten for his first wicket – I turned to whoever was nearest to me and said that this could be Devon’s day. Particularly as he wasn’t best known for his catching.”
What followed was one of the most remarkable performance from an English bowler in the history of the game. Running in like a man possessed, Malcolm didn’t so much rattle the South Africans as leave them battered and broken.
A tumbling catch by DeFreitas at fine leg got rid of Peter Kirsten to leave South Africa 1-2. More significantly it left Hansie Cronje, the golden boy of South African cricket, on strike.
“If you look at the footage he was in the perfect forward defence position, but the ball bowled him half an hour before he put the bat down,” Malcolm later recalled.
Watching from behind the stumps, Rhodes had the perfect view of Malcolm’s missiles.
“I was stood a fair way back but I had been further back that summer when Goughie was bowling at Old Trafford against New Zealand,” he says.
“You could see, though, that everything was suddenly clicking for Devon.”
When that happened Malcolm was as dangerous and fast as any bowler in world cricket. The only issue for England, was that it happened all too rarely – although his unsympathetic handling by a succession of regimes didn’t help.
Since being announced to the Press as ‘Malcolm Devon’ by Ted Dexter after his first call-up in August 1989 – he took 1-166 on his debut at Trent Bridge – Malcolm had been in and out of the England Test side.
He was fizzing – you could tell when he marked out his run. And when he bowled Gary Kirsten for his first wicket I said this could be his day
Take my hat off to you! Devon Malcolm accepts the applause after leaving the field with figures of 9-57. Inset: Malcolm in full flow
Off you go! Hansie Cronje is bowled through the gate for a duck
He’s flying: But Allan Donald paid the price with bat and ball