“Who can forget Malcolm Devon?” – Ted Dexter, England Chairman of Selectors, 1989.
So far in our series of articles reviewing the motley players who contributed to England’s wonderful 1990s farce, we have picked players who never really hit the heights in Test cricket. However today, we choose someone who did, albeit just on one remarkable occasion. For one glorious Saturday, Devon Eugene Malcolm danced with the demons in a spell of fast bowling rarely associated with England cricketers.
It was Saturday 20th August 1994 and England were 1-0 down in a three match series against South Africa (the visitors’ first tour of England since the end of their exile); the third day of the final Test. The Oval pitch was lively enough that neither side selected a spinner. England were 28 runs behind as their first innings finished, the final wicket to fall being the perennial number 11, Malcolm. The first delivery of his (four-ball) innings was a Fanie de Villiers bouncer that struck him on the helmet. His alleged reply was “you guys are going to pay for this, you guys are history.”
We should point out here that an often forgotten element of this Test match was that Jonty Rhodes had previously spent a night in hospital with concussion after having ducked into a Malcolm bouncer himself.
Notwithstanding what had gone previously, Malcolm delivered on his threat. South Africa were soon 1/3, the Kirsten brothers and Hansie Cronje back in the pavilion. The bowling was quick, and it was exceptional. Daryll Cullinan was the only batsman to make a significant score and they had reached 175/7 (with Rhodes still to bat); all seven falling to Malcolm. Few would have doubted his chances of taking all ten, but Darren Gough had other ideas, having Cullinan caught by Graham Thorpe for 94. But the innings ended soon thereafter, the final two wickets both falling to Malcolm. His figures of 9-57 were the sixth best ever in Tests and are now legendary numbers.
The match continued to amaze: England had two days and 16 overs to chase 204 to level the series. By stumps, they were 107/1 with the first 50 runs having come from just 27 balls – and this being Graham Gooch and Michael Atherton, neither particularly known for their explosive batting! They wrapped up victory the next day; Malcolm unsurprisingly man of the match for his figures of 10-138. More remarkable was his man of the series award, given that he hadn’t played either of the preceding games.
(A quick quiz question: who had the second best innings bowling figures in this match?*)
Anyway, we’re not just here to write about one match, for Malcolm played in another 39 for England. Like so many other England bowlers of this era, his career was intermittent due to the selectors’ revolving door policy. His overall record in those 40 games – spread between 1989 and 1997 – doesn’t read too well: 128 wickets at an average of 37.00. But as we’ve seen, he was capable of destruction; he had genuine pace and was probably the only truly quick bowler for England at the time.
He was born in Jamaica and moved to England at the age of 16, where he progressed through the Derbyshire ranks, helped no doubt by the presence of Michael Holding as overseas player.
His England debut came in 1989, but was a disappointing affair as Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh batted throughout the entire first day. But his second and third matches showed what he was capable of in the right conditions, as he took 15 wickets in the first two Tests in the West Indies, helping England to take a 1-0 (almost 2-0) lead in the series. But unfortunately Malcolm was the very definition of inconsistent and an easy choice to drop when things were not quite right. Sadly, his bad days far outnumbered his good, but he was a popular figure in a similar manner to Monty Panesar, mostly due to his batting ‘ability’. For Malcolm was a genuine, 100%, complete, utter, total tail-ender, as a batting average of 6.05 clearly demonstrates. Only two players ever had the honour of batting below him in the order for England, namely Phil Tufnell on a few occasions and an injured Ian Botham. Nonetheless, his wild swings and heaves did enable him to score two first-class fifties and also reach a highest international score of 29 (from 18 balls, including two sixes off Shane Warne).
He played his last Test in 1997, but his county career continued with Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, before retiring after a 20 year career that finished with 1,054 First-Class wickets.
His record may be more comparable with the West Indian bowlers of the 2000s rather than the 1990s, but for as long as England fans are old enough to remember that decade, we will always have that day in 1994 when he made nine guys history.
*Quiz answer: Joey Emmanuel Benjamin.