When Malcolm reduced Proteas to ashes

Former England paceman Devon Malcolm's blow hot blow cold nature with the ball affected his international career. DH PHOTO

When one wants more information about a certain thing, Google is generally the first choice. To get a good perspective of Devon Malcolm, YouTube, perhaps, is the best option.

Just key in his name in the video-sharing website and the first search result would be his devastating 9/57 performance against South Africa in the third Test at The Oval. Fanie de Villiers sought revenge on his and Jonty Rhodes’ behalf by greeting Malcolm with a bouncer that him flush on the helmet. Malcolm took the blow with a smile but it stoked the fire inside him and he just laid waste to the Proteans with a show that’s been rated as one of the best and hostile ever seen. 

In a free-wheeling chat, the 55-year-old Malcolm recalls that memorable day 24 years ago and his first international tour to the West Indies where he dismissed Master Blaster Viv Richards twice at the land of his birth — Jamaica. Excerpts.

On the 9/57: First time South Africa were back into international cricket since the apartheid days. I was left out of the first two Test matches and they recalled me for the final Test. I felt really good heading into that game although I was left out. They normally used to call me for the last match of a series whenever they wanted to win. I was feeling very confident because I was taking a lot of wickets in county cricket. A lot of people mention about the incident of me being hit on the head that stoked the fire inside me. An incident happened in the first innings. I bowled a bouncer to Jonty Rhodes, he misread the ball, ducked and the ball cracked the side of the helmet. He ended up spending the night in the hospital. I actually went into bat in my second innings and I could hear the South Africa’s slip cordon egging on Fanie de Villiers to bowl me a bouncer because I hit one of their guys. At the back of mind I kept saying it’s a bluff because you don’t bowl your fellow fast bowler a bouncer first ball — that was an unwritten rule.

I thought Fannie was going to bowl a yorker to me but he cracked me right between the eyes. I took it really personal. I could see the South Africans enjoying a bit of giggle. I turned around to the slips and said ‘You shouldn’t have done that. If you guys want to see what fast bowling is, wait until you come onto to bat. You guys are history.’ Sometimes you say things like that but very first ball in the fourth innings, I bowled a perfect bouncer to Gary Kirsten. It pitched exactly where I wanted to, went through the right amount of pace past Kirsten’s nose. The slip cordon made a lot of noise and the South African batsmen in the change were wondering what was happening. I told them boys you are coming here in a hurry. In my first spell I took 3/0 and just kept going on and on. Eventually taking 9/57, the sixth best performance at that time.

On the tour to West Indies where you grabbed 19 wickets: I was born in Jamaica but moved to England as a kid and it was the first time I was going back to my land of birth. The first Test match was at Sabina Park. I read about (Gordon) Greenidge, (Desmond) Haynes, Richards and although I played for England, those guys, growing up as a youngster, those guys is what all you hear about. In the back of your mind, you were fearful of those guys — they were heroes to some extent. I normally field at fine leg and the crowd was extremely vociferous. They were very loud and saying a lot of unpleasant things. It’s amazing how quickly the crowd changed. In the first innings, I trapped Master Blaster Viv Richards out LBW. The crowd was like who’s this guy. What turned things completely was in the second innings when I cleaned bowled Richards with a yorker. Once I got Richards out for a second time, the crowd was like ‘What, this guy not only getting Richards out once but twice in the game.’ Getting Richards out twice and they adopted me back. Richards was the most intimidating batsman I’ve ever played against.

On accusations of you being very inconsistent: I was extremely fit and strong. These guys when I’m not playing are extremely happy. My lack of confidence was more, lets say thats the way things were in the 90s. Those were the times when the batsmen were not performing, I was dropped. Remember playing a series against the West Indies in 1993, it was low scoring match at Leeds, I took some wickets and we ended up losing the match. I remember Brian Lara was playing and he told me after the game ‘See you next match’. And I told him ‘I won’t be playing the next game.’ Steve Waugh used to say we are pretty happy when Devon Malcolm was not playing. Nowadays you got video analysts and all. You come out there, you exactly know where you want to bowl. Those days, the ball was just handed to me and I had to knock the batsmen out. People used to say I was erratic. If they had told me your job was to attack and Angus Fraser’s job is to go at 2 runs an over and you have to make vital breakthroughs, I would have. I had to take lots of wickets every time to stay relevant. My field placings, I didn’t have much say.

On bowling to Sachin Tendulkar in the 1990 series: I came back from the West Indies full of confidence and I come across this little boy who was 17 and a bit, paying at Old Trafford, made his maiden Test century. I knew then this little man was going to become a great cricketer. What an amazing batsman he was. In the first match of the series Gooch made his 333, Kapil Dev hit four sixes to save the follow-on. The pitches were pretty flat. When we went to Old Trafford it was pretty slow. I really couldn’t push Tendulkar back as much as I wanted to. He was so accomplished then itself. Everything about him was so correct. He had time, no rush and he had confidence in his own ability. He played me extremely well. He played us like an experienced pro. The pitches were not as quick and bouncy as I thought. 

 

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