“You Guys Are History”

Today Matthew Sheldon recalls Devon Malcolm’s 9-57 at The Oval against South Africa. I was lucky enough to interview Devon a couple of years ago. You can listen to the interview here. But before you do that, here’s Matthew with a fan’s perspective on that brilliant day back in 1994 …

How do you dismiss a number 11 cheaply and efficiently? A ‘batsman’ with a single figure average? A bunny?

This is usually a simple operation, but on occasion it can be quite a tricky and frustrating task. There are ways and means of disposing of players who struggle to put willow to leather.

Here are some options that work:

Pitching it up and hitting off stump. After a few attempts they miss and you hit.

A slower ball. They might drive one uppishly to mid-off.

A yorker. Trap them in front or clean bowl them.

Indeed, there are lots of alternatives when dealing with a number 11 rabbit. I am certain, reader, you have many ideas of your own.

Hmm…so what to do?

This was the question facing South Africa as England struggled at the end of their first innings at the Oval in 1994. Devon Malcolm, England’s oft bespectacled bunny, was at the crease.

Here’s what not to do.

Do not under any circumstances wake the beast. Do not – I repeat – DO NOT send down an 85 mile an hour bouncer aimed at his head. For if you do … well in Devon’s own words: “You guys are history.”

It could’ve been oh so different for the South Africans.

Had they chosen a different plan, they still would’ve secured a slim first innings advantage. But crucially they may have encountered a very different Devon Malcolm when they came to bat again.

The word that comes to mind for many of Devon’s spells would be ‘inconsistent’. His bowling could be brilliant, brutal and bloody awful in equal measure. Steve Waugh wonderfully described the experience thus: “it was the fastest over you’ve ever faced, followed by the worst”.

This waywardness would be utterly frustrating, not to mention painful – both for the batsman and also the fielding captain.

But not on this day.

The loud tinny smack that thundered into Devon’s dark blue helmet marked the beginning of the end of this test match. It changed Devon. He switched from an amiable figure with a hint of danger, to a beast of the most dangerous order.

When his spell began in the South African 2nd Innings it was clear to see he was a man possessed. Rampaging in like a bull in a shop which only sells fine china (if you can imagine such a thing) he delivered a fast bowling masterclass. It was barbaric, visceral and joyous!

The South Africans who had been so in-yer-face and alpha male about their cricket were frightened out of their wits. And they began to fall timidly as the magnificent Malcolm bounded in.

Bouncing energetically and delivering rockets (back then I swore I saw sparks flying from the ball) he ripped the opposition apart.

This was Devon with the handbrake off – at his intimidating and bullying best. With a laser like focus and an aura of total domination.

There was little to no waywardness during this innings. He was butchering the carcass of the South Africans for all the baying crowd to see. How the Oval crowd loved this gladiatorial scene.

This was the best spell of bowling I had ever seen. The fact that these spells were few and far between for England is a fact. What is also a fact is that at his very best Devon Malcolm could be one of the most hostile bowlers of any generation.

This display of fast bowling cannot be described as effortless. It actually looked like Malcolm was putting everything into every delivery. Every sinew of his body was pulsing and rippling as he rampaged through the South Africans.

16.3 overs, 2 maidens, 57 runs, 9 wickets.

These figures are absolutely magnificent. Without Daryl Cullinan, who made a determined 94, South Africa would’ve been bowled out for a record low score. The cowering Proteas had been completely decimated by this dominant Malcolm.

Set 204 to win, England’s batsmen polished off South Africa wonderfully with Hick scoring a run-a-ball 81. Oh Hick, what a natural talent!

But the man of the moment, and the man of the match, was always Devon. Glorious Devon. What a superb performance. Devon Malcolm’s 9-57 will go down in history.

Matthew Sheldon


Check out his blog www.englishrose.blogabet.com


  • A crucial factor that day was an English pitch full of pace and bounce. Whatever happened to those?

    It wasn’t the only time Malcolm was roughed up as a batsman. Courtney Walsh gave him a nastier working over on a West Indies’ tour. Walsh didn’t have a reputation as “that sort of bowler” so it was strange to see him go for Malcolm like he did that time. All I can say in his defence is that Walsh himself was quite a non-batsman and never complained when he copped some short stuff (indeed, he sometimes seemed to relish it).

    • Walsh was probably the only batsman in history more entertaining to watch than Devon Malcolm.

      Worth pointing out that Devon hit more Test sixes than Don Bradman. True!

  • Malcolm belongs for me in the frustrating mould with the likes of Harmison and Simon Jones, who on their day were as good as anyone around, but their days were rare considering their potential.
    With Jones there’s a legitimate excuse as his physical fitness was often an issue, but for Harmison and especially Malcolm it always seemed a mental problem that coaches were unable to tap into. To an extent quickies are prone to blow hot and cold as rythmn is such a key factor and not something that can be turned on and off like a tap, but these 2 stand alone for me in the frustration stakes.
    Malcolm’s spell here and Harmison’s against Pakistan show the potential but especially with Malcolm there was not enough in similar vein. Whilst I can laud these spells I cannot celebrate either bowler.
    There were a couple of Windies quicks in the 70’s who had similar problems which limited their test appearances, but they would have both walked into the England side at the time, terrorising batsmen on the county circuit. One was Sylvester Clarke and the other was Wayne Daniel. Both could be brutally quick but lacked consistency. Of course they had to compete with the unprecedented likes of Holding, Roberts and Marshall, so there is some excuse for their lack of international caps.

  • You very rarely see a bowler switch from bowling over to bowling round, as Devon did to Wessels, and retain the same level of accuracy, pace and hostility. Great performance but you had to feel sorry for Gough – he bowled pretty well and only took one wicket, albeit their top scorer.

  • This is another great day I experienced secondhand via TMS – and highlights later that day – but it was still a tremendous experience.

    The strange thing was that Devon actually didn’t take many wickets per match, over his career (even in first class cricket) – same with Wayne Daniel. Maybe Devon was too expensive per over to keep him on long enough. Or maybe raw pace without much control just isn’t enough to trouble professional batters.

    Further to ME’s comment on Harmison etc – I wonder if there is an optimal degree of inconsistency for cricketers. I personally find very consistent players like McGrath and Kallis rather dull. The most exciting players to watch have some inconsistency mixed with brilliance – like Peterson or Starc.

    • Call me greedy if you like, but I’d rather have both and the best can deliver that often enough for the expectation to always be there. With Harmison and Malcolm you knew after a few balls whether their rythmn was there or not and more often than not it wasn’t. Mitchell Johnson was the same but Stark I rate highly as he’s a wicket taker and takes risks. He also has enough self belief to force the issue. Malcolm and Harmison always seemed to lack this. Pieterson certainly didn’t lack it but I always felt was arrogantly self confident, which meant he could throw his wicket away playing inappropriately.
      For me the player who most epitomised the ups and downs of rythmn was Clive Lloyd. You knew within minutes of him coming to the crease whether he was in form or liable to scratch around before innocuously surrendering his wicket. There’s something innately human about this. This vulnerability made him more watchable for me than someone like Viv Richards who seemed almost super human.

      • I must admit I don’t recall seeing Clive Lloyd scratching around and innocuously surrendering his wicket. Are you sure you’re not confusing him with David ? They both played for Lancashire and looked so alike they were often mistaken for one another.

  • More somewhat concerning news about England’s handling of the current fast-bowler….

    Firstly, it appears in some media sources that Archer is bowling again just two weeks after his elbow operation. Secondly, it then occurs to someone that this means Archer could be fit for some of the IPL so further stories appear that he will be blocked from going even if he’s fit and wants to go (but will be required to turn out for Sussex).

    I wouldn’t put money on this marriage ending happily….


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