England V South Africa – 1994

Every game has a defining moment – it could be an inspired piece of fielding, a bad or great decision by an umpire, a searing leg-spinner which pitches a foot outside leg and hits off, a fearsome hook high into the stand. It could also be an almighty clanger – an error of such gargantuan proportions that it is destined to find its way into the pages of history, to be retold around the fireplace of reminiscence for time immemorial.

Such is the albatross slung around the neck of Petrus Stephanus (Fanie) de Villiers, for on a bright and breezy Saturday in August 1994 on a wickedly fast, bouncy Oval wicket he produced an unplayable delivery to an England number 11 batsman. The immediate response was just four words – “You guys are history!” – but never was the phrase ‘Actions speak louder than words’ more demonstrably illustrated.

Six months earlier, Courtney Walsh had found himself in the unusual position of being roundly booed by his home Sabina Park crowd for bowling bouncer after bouncer at fellow Kingston citizen Devon Eugene Malcolm. It was mean and cowardly then, but in the context of this acrimonious series between South Africa and England, the actions of de Villiers were probably to be expected. The unexpected came later.

South Africa held a 1-0 lead in the best of three series – they had totally destroyed England at Lord’s by the massive margin of 356 runs and had easily held off a spirited reply at Headingley in the second test. This was The Oval, though, a track as hard as concrete just made for fast bowling – and waiting in the wings, England had the fastest of them all.

Kepler Wessels, part-time Australian, won the toss and had little hesitation in electing to bat, sending out the Kirsten brothers to do battle against the England opening salvo of Phil DeFreitas and Devon Malcolm. England had by far the best of the first morning with both openers bagging a Kirsten apiece, but it was Joey Benjamin, playing his only test match at the age of 33 who picked up Hansie Kronje, his footwork conspicuous by its absence, for a run-a-ball 38. Shortly afterwards, DeFreitas enticed Daryll Cullinan to offer Steve Rhodes a straightforward chance behind the wicket to reduce the tourists to 85-4 at lunch.

The return of Malcolm after the luncheon interval effectively reduced South Africa to five down. Jonty Rhodes, expecting a bouncer, ducked into a missile which was barely waist height and was poleaxed. He retired hurt and was taken to hospital where he was detained overnight for observation. Perhaps it was this unfortunate incident which sowed the seeds of revenge in the mind of de Villiers, perhaps not.

Wessels for the most part scratched around, struggling for his timing, but he was particularly severe on anything wayward, cracking seven boundaries before he became Benjamin’s second test victim, leg before wicket for 45. As England sought to press home their advantage, Brian McMillan and Dave Richardson entrenched themselves, bravely getting in line as they safely negotiated their way to tea.

The pair added a valuable 124 for the sixth wicket at a cracking pace and in the process both went past fifty in fine style. Malcolm and Gough struggled to get anything past the bat but with the total on 260, the golden arm of Joey Benjamin struck once more as Richardson (58) feathered one through to the waiting gloves of Rhodes. Matthews watched for an over at the non-striker’s end before facing his first ball but only succeeded in steering it straight to the huge hands of Graeme Hick at slip and Benjamin, amazingly, was on a hat-trick.

Fanie de Villiers successfully negotiated his first ball then played an admirable sheet-anchor role for the next hour. Little did anyone know that the sprightly Benjamin would never take another test match wicket – in fact, after this game injury would rob him of the opportunity of ever playing at the highest level again.

With six overs of the day’s play remaining, the resistance of de Villiers ended when he was caught by Stewart off the bowling of DeFreitas, shortly after bringing up the 300, but Allan Donald and Brian McMillan successfully saw out the day’s play but only after an alarm or two. At the close, South Africa had just shaded affairs on 326-8 with McMillan just nine runs short of a fine century.

Day two dawned dank and dreary with heavy cloud cover and frequent showers which scudded across the ground. The local weather forecast held out hopes of an improvement and so it was, just one hour’s play lost at the start of the morning session.

McMillan added just a couple before he became the fourth scalp for Phil DeFreitas, by far the pick of the England bowlers in conjunction with Benjamin. Jonty Rhodes, on medical advice, did not bat and South Africa ended their first innings on 332 all out.

There are people who say “I would play test cricket for nothing”. One who effectively DID in this series was Michael Atherton. His dissent after being adjudged leg before wicket to Fanie de Villiers for a golden duck earned him his second four-figure fine in the series, following closely on the heels of the ‘Dirt in Pocket’ fiasco. This, coupled with the tawdry over rate of which both sides were guilty helped to line the coffers of the establishment during the summer of 1994.

Gooch and Hick were clearly struggling before lunch, Gooch in particular looking particularly uncomfortable against a South African attack which was giving nothing away. When lunch came to England’s rescue, the home side were 21-1 having batted for the best part of an hour. It was no surprise when Gooch departed shortly into the afternoon session, caught behind off the much-improved Donald, a man destined for greatness.

Hick and Thorpe set about establishing a foothold in the game and gradually the pair started to redress the balance. Hick, the perpetual enigma of the England upper order, was looking quite brilliant at first, but gradually the familiar frailties emerged as he moved into the thirties. Too late coming down on a Donald yorker, he went for 39, having added 60 for the third wicket alongside Graham Thorpe.

Alec Stewart, so often England’s middle order salvation, started slowly, content to allow his Surrey compatriot the lion’s share of the strike and the pair took England into three figures. The South African attack was relying far too heavily on Donald and de Villiers – the back-up pairing of Matthews and McMillan were frankly awful, presenting the English batsmen with a boundary ball almost every over.

It came as a real surprise therefore when Thorpe was dismissed, clean bowled by a rare decent ball from Matthews for a fine 79 made in two and a half hours. John Crawley departed soon afterwards, caught behind for just five and at 165-5 England, if not exactly in desperate trouble, had plenty of cause for concern.

Stewart chose attack as his form of defence, and in a scintillating half hour exhibition of stroke-play crashed the ball all around his beloved Oval. His partner, Stephen Rhodes, was as much an onlooker as the crowd. England’s 200 and Stewart’s half-century came in quick succession but the ending befitted that of a warrior. Fanie de Villiers dropped one short outside off stump and Stewart went for one pull too many, dragging the ball back on to his wicket for a fine 62.

Rhodes followed with little delay to leave England on 222-7 and just the pacemen to come, but the fun was only just beginning. Phil DeFreitas and Darren Gough lit up the evening as only tail-enders can – a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure. The duo swung and slashed their way to a half-century partnership and in the process reduced even Allan Donald to the level of cannon-fodder, plundering 16 off the great man’s final over of the day as England ended on 281-7.

Day three, Saturday, and one of the most dramatic days I have witnessed in forty years of watching this wonderful game, started as day two had ended – hectically. DeFreitas ran himself out, Gough continued to thrash the ball to all parts – his undefeated 42 included seven fours and a six – and Donald’s figures took a mauling.

After Benjamin’s duck, the man whose name will be inexorably linked with this game strode to the wicket. He received just four deliveries, four runs in the scorebook and a dismissal, caught by substitute fielder Timothy Gower Shaw (his only claim to fame in test cricket history) off the bowling of Craig Matthews. He also received just the fillip he needed to get his dander up – a nasty blow on the head and some none-too-pleasant enquiries about his health.

South Africa had a lead of just 28 from their first innings – possibly significant on a dry turner of a wicket but hardly significant at The Oval. Mike Atherton threw the ball to Devon Malcolm, fanned the already-lit blue touch-paper and retired to a safe distance. The big man tore in and let fly – and Gary Kirsten, frozen like a rabbit in car headlights, jabbed the ball straight back to the bowler – One!

DeFreitas, bowling line and length at the other end, kept things tight but had a major contribution in the next to fall, Peter Kirsten prodding the ball straight to him in the strengthened slip cordon – Two! Two overs later and Kronje was undone by sheer pace, still moving into defensive position as the ball crashed into his stumps – Three! And just a single on the board.

The Oval was abuzz with the sheer ferocity of Malcolm’s retribution, and for the next half an hour, he charged in time after time only to beat the bat or, more frequently, see the ball fly to the boundary. Lunch came as a temporary respite for the South Africans, but it also gave the man whom Nelson Mandela was later to refer to as ‘The Black Destroyer’ a chance to get his breath back.

Kepler Wessels had added 72 runs in partnership with Daryll Cullinan when his rearguard action came to an end, caught by Stephen Rhodes for a gutsy 28 off another Malcolm Exocet – Four! and then it was the turn of McMillan to hold up proceedings. Cullinan, meanwhile, was batting with immense determination and more than a little style as the runs began to mount.

Malcolm, seemingly spent, was withdrawn from the attack for the second time as England turned to Gough, Benjamin and finally Hick, all without success. When the pair had taken the score well past 100 and the partnership to a troublesome fifty, Malcolm was thrust forward for the third and final time. McMillan had made 25 out of 137 when he edged one to Thorpe – Five!

Two overs later, a fuller ball thudded into the pads of McMillan – Six! and when Matthews edged to Rhodes in the same over – Seven! it seemed more than likely that the heroics of Jim Laker were about to be emulated. Once again, Malcolm had given his all. Not for him the nine and ten over spells of the medium-quick. Atherton used him in short bursts – four overs was ideal, five possibly one too many.

A word on Daryll Cullinan – without his truly great innings, this game could – probably would – have been over in three days. A great player of pace, he was to team up with Devon Malcolm the following year at Derbyshire but in this game, there were no favours – and he was to be the only South African (other than the not out Fanie de Villiers, the catalyst of the whole episode) without the legend ‘bowled Malcolm’ alongside his name in the scorebook.

The fall of Matthews brought Jonty Rhodes to the crease, and The Oval stood as one to welcome the world’s greatest fielder back to the arena he had left for hospital two days before. Cullinan launched an extraordinary assault on the English bowlers and moved into the nineties, but one drive too many off Darren Gough was held by Graham Thorpe to leave South Africa on 175-8.

Malcolm, now in his fourth spell, removed Jonty Rhodes – Eight! and Allan Donald – Nine! in the space of three balls in his next over without further addition to the score and led England from the field to regroup in search of 204 to win the game and tie the series. Malcolm had recorded figures of 9-57 from a mere 99 deliveries – only Laker has ever done better for the Old Country, and that on a ‘doctored’ wicket.

England, inspired, treated the South African bowlers in the second innings with less than contempt – more like utter disdain. To be frank, it was a pitiful display. Donald went for 27 off two overs as England raced along at ten runs an over before Gooch was bowled by Matthews for 33 off just 20 deliveries.

Towards the close of day three, Donald was brought back into the attack once more and conceded a further 18 from two wayward overs. Including the Friday evening carnage, the man destined to become South Africa’s greatest paceman since the days of Peter Pollock had conceded an almost surreal 75 in just six overs. Compare that to the heroics of Malcolm on this of all days – such is the beautiful uncertainty of this most wonderful of games.

Day four, 97 more required for victory and almost plain sailing for England. The breakneck pace of the day before was maintained awhile as Graeme Hick plastered the bowling to all parts, but slowly the realisation that this was a test match and not a one day international became uppermost in the thoughts of Michael Atherton.

To Allan Donald’s credit, he returned to bag the England skipper for a fine 63, but his innings analysis of 1-96 off 12 is a scar in the record books that time can never heal. When the second wicket fell at 180, the job was all but done.

Thorpe and Hick steered England home shortly before lunch for a comprehensive eight wicket victory, but it is the name of Devon Eugene Malcolm, a man born within a cricket ball’s throw of Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica on February 22nd, 1963 which will forever be synonymous with this fixture.

Match Summary

England 304 (Thorpe 79, Stewart 62, de Villiers 4-62, Donald 3-76)
and 205-2 (Hick 81*, Atherton 63)

South Africa 332 (McMillan 93, Richardson 58, Benjamin 4-42, DeFreitas 4-93)
and 175 (Cullinan 94, Malcolm 9-57)

England won by 8 wickets

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