Then captain and coach, Atherton and Illingworth, were loathe to enter the final test without a spinner. However, as soon as they arrived, the day before the test, the pitch made up their minds for them. It was a feather-bed, lively as a charged barb-wire fence, and the selectors made the decision to play Malcolm ahead of Tufnell. The English public were suitably apprehensive as Malcolm was as wayward as they came. It was impossible to tell which Malcolm would arrive on the day, but on the hard and fast wicket they were faced with (Geoff Boycott couldn't force his gate-key into it during his pre-match inspection), Big Dev had all the credentials. He was blisteringly quick, clocking in at 97mph with some deliveries, had a distinctive whippy action and lacked a discernible sense of humour.
The first South African innings didn't really go Devon Malcolm's way. The Proteas were dismissed for 332, but Malcolm had returned figures of 1-81, giving his captain cause for concern. Atherton handed Malcolm a roasting, laying into him for pitching it up to the South African tail-enders and allowing them to drive on a true wicket. Malcolm kept quiet. He believed in an unspoken rule among fast bowlers, that being, you don't bounce the people that can bounce you back.
However, in that fabled first innings, he had delivered a particularly gruesome delivery that won him no friends among the South African camp. The Proteas number six, Jonty Rhodes, misjudged the length of a Malcolm delivery that didn't really get up, and it crashed sickeningly into his helmet, flooring the animated South African nurdler. Rhodes lay almost motionless for four minutes and many thought the blow may have exacerbated his epilepsy. It didn't, but Rhodes was rushed to hospital where he was kept overnight for concussion. His helmet was cracked and irreparable, and was a signal of the vicious pace at which the ball had collided with his skull.
Vinnige Fanie was no slouch himself, as his nickname suggested. But Malcolm thought it was all a bluff; as previously stated, he believed that if you throw down some short stuff first up to a quickie, you must have a death wish. He played for the yorker, keeping his bat low with almost no back lift, as De Villiers did the unthinkable and sent down a bouncer that almost decapitated Malcolm as it rattled into his helmet. A piece of foam padding from the helmet landed at short-leg, and as Gary Kirsten bent down to pick it up, Malcolm furiously snarled “F*** off, I'm going to kill you guys”. Kirsten just smiled and the rest of the close fielders joined in the sledging of Big Dev. Incensed, Malcolm uttered the famous quote, “You guys are f****** history.”
Between innings Malcolm was deathly quiet, he sat with his eyes closed and his headphones in, channelling the rage that would lead to his 9-57, the sixth-best bowling figures in test cricket history at the time, and the third-best by a non-spinner, behind only Richard Hadlee's 9-52 and George Lohmann's antiquated 9-28 in 1896. His first ball was a rip snorter that shaved Gary Kirsten's grille as it thumped into the gloves of wicket-keeper Steve Rhodes. The crowd at the Oval went berserk and as Malcolm sauntered back to the mark of his ridiculously long run-up, the South Africans filled the balcony in towels to see what all the fuss was about. Fired up and eyes blazing, Malcolm shouted, “You all better be padding up now boys as you'll be out here soon enough.” As it turned out, he was right.
Kirsten fended another short one which rebounded off his glove as Malcolm stormed on to take the return catch. His brother Peter, was caught at fine leg attempting a hook. Cronje was bowled straight through a picture perfect forward defensive that was as drastically late as it was textbook. Big Dev had 3-4 in his first spell and would return to do even more damage, his third and final spell returned 5-17 as he had McMillan fending to first slip; Richardson plumb LBW after being squared up; Matthews caught behind off another jaffer; the dazed Jonty Rhodes fetching a wide one and Donald playing all around one which was straight and fast. Somewhere in the middle of this rampage, he also had Kepler Wessels caught behind slashing at a wide one in his second spell, after hitting Wessels once in the box and twice in the body.
Only Darryl Cullinan survived this onslaught, in typical Cullinan fashion, avoiding Malcolm and refusing singles, as Devon would later attest to. Darren Gough would be the man to spoil Malcolm's party by dismissing Cullinan, and on the field Gough humorously ragged Malcolm that his one wicket was worth more than all of Malcolm's nine, as he had removed the best batsman.
Malcolm never reached these heights again, in fact, hardly came close. He only played another 12 tests for England, being wheeled out as the proverbial "horse for the course" in the last tests at the Oval, on a track that over the years began to lose its pace. His career dive bombed after a bitter fall out with Ray Illingworth, but will forever be remembered for this ferocious spell of fast bowling. The stage is set in 2012 for an equally aggressive test series, but will we see another classic spell at the Oval? I have no doubt that we will, but the magnitude of it is unlikely to rival this classic performance.
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