Devon Malcolm recalls spell from hell

It has been 24 years since former England pacer Malcolm reduced South Africa to rubble at the Oval, but he can still recall his nine for 57 in vivid, riveting detail.

Malcolm recalls bowling to a young Sachin Tendulkar in 1990 and dismissing Viv Richards twice on his maiden tour to the West Indies.

Devon Malcolm is sitting in Letchworth CC's old pavilion in rural Hertfordshire, thinking back to the summer of 1994. "If there was a zone, mate," he says, "I was there that day."

It has been 24 years since Malcolm reduced South Africa to rubble at the Oval, but he can still recall his nine for 57 in vivid, riveting detail. It was the sixth-best spell in Test history at that point; it was also Malcolm at his best - fast, furious, terrifying.

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England had arrived for the third Test 1-0 down in the series, and the call duly went out to Malcolm. Such were the nineties, he says – in one day, out the next.

It all began in the first innings, when Jonty Rhodes ducked into a bouncer from Malcolm, was knocked out, and had to be taken to hospital. So when the England quick went in to bat, South Africa's fielders urged Fanie de Villiers to retaliate; Malcolm thought it was a joke until he was struck on the helmet first ball.

"He cracked me right between the eyes," he says. "I took it really personal. I could see the South African slips cordon enjoying a bit of giggle. I turned around and said, ‘You shouldn’t have done that. If you guys want to see what fast bowling is, wait until you come in to bat. You guys are history.’"

That last line has now become the golden highlight of Malcolm's career; some consider the story apocryphal, but he insists he uttered those words.

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A trial by pace
When South Africa's second innings began, Malcolm wasted little time in conveying his feelings. The first ball of his spell was a snorter, flying past Gary Kirsten's nose and thudding into the 'keeper's gloves.

"As I was walking back to my mark, I could see the South African batsmen pop over to the changing-room door to find out what the crowd was cheering about," he recalls. "I said, 'Pad up boys. You're going to be down here in a hurry.'"

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On air, David Gower remarked: "I think Devon means business." He was right. Gary Kirsten was out third-ball, caught and bowled fending; his half-brother Peter was held hooking; and Hansie Cronje was bowled past his outside-edge, beaten for pace. South Africa was 1 for 3.

Only Daryll Cullinan resisted, scoring 94; an impressed Malcolm later had his county, Derbyshire, sign him up. No other batsman crossed 30 as South Africa was bowled out for 175. England went on to win the match by eight wickets and draw the series.

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The erratic pacer

"Running in to bowl, all I could see was the batsman and I heard no noise at all,” he says. “Later, watching the replays on TV, I realized that the crowd was cheering my every step. In my head there was total silence."

For all his raw pace, though, Malcolm had a reputation for being erratic and inconsistent. He never held a place down, and only  played 40 Tests in all. "People said, 'I was erratic'. I don't believe so," he says. "My one-day averages are brilliant (27.61 in List A cricket). It was one-day cricket, I knew I had to keep it tight. But in Tests, as a young, raw fast bowler, my remit was to bowl quick. I was told, 'Angus Fraser's job is to go at two an over, but you can go at four. But you have to make the vital breakthroughs.'

"But if I don't take five wickets, all of a sudden, Devon Malcolm is on his own, he bowled badly. If I just tried to keep it tight, I used to get a rollicking in the dressing room for not doing my job. And my field placing, I didn't have much to do with it."

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Bowling to Viv, and a young Tendulkar

Malcolm has other fond memories from his career too: of his first tour to the West Indies, when he - as a Jamaica-born England player - was jeered in Kingston until he dismissed Viv Richards twice, bowling him with a yorker in the second innings. "They adopted me back," he grins.

Then he recalls bowling to a young Sachin Tendulkar in 1990. "This little boy was 17 and a bit, and he scored his maiden Test century at Old Trafford,” he says.

“He played me like an experienced pro. I said, 'I reckon this little man gonna be a good cricketer when he grows up.' And I wasn't far wrong. As a matter of fact in that game I don't think I hit him on the head. I normally hit batsmen on the head."

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