Oval has been unkind to SA
MENTION the name Devon Malcolm and Proteas cricketers who were at The Oval on that fateful day in 1994, still turn pale.
The sight of a fired-up Malcolm charging in to bowl, tail up and nostrils flaring had stomachs churning in the South African dressing-room.
It was carnage as Malcolm induced edges off wafting Proteas bats. Except for Daryll Cullinan, mistimed, evasive hook shots were the order of the day and stumps were shattered by toe-crushing yorkers.
The upshot of it all, was that South Africa were rolled for 175 in their second innings and Malcolm finished nine wickets for 57 runs. He would have joined another Englishman Jim Laker by taking all 10 had it not been for Darren Gough dismissing Cullinan for 93.
South Africa needed a draw to win the series 1-0 but instead England chased down a target of 203 in only 35 overs to square matters. Graeme Hick was unbeaten on 81 and Michael Atherton made 63.
South Africa had Fanie de Villiers to thank for their collapse in the face of some vindictive fast bowling. Malcolm was hit on the helmet by De Villiers, straight between the eyes, first ball.
The Pretoria-born swing bowler probably thought he’d achieved some payback after Malcolm had flattened teammate Jonty Rhodes with a sickening blow to the head and out of the test the previous day.
But after being hit, Malcolm turned to the fielders around him and reportedly said: “You guys are going to pay for this. You guys are history.”
Malcolm turned his words into action in only 99 deliveries and De Villiers was left wondering.
South Africa went into that third and final test searching for the country’s first win at The Oval since the first attempt in 1907.
More recent visits to the Oval in 2003 and 2008 have also resulted in defeat. In fact, as it stands now, South Africa have never won a test at the Oval in 13 tests. England have won six and the other seven have been drawn.
In 2003, Graeme Smith had the rare opportunity of winning a test series in England. It was his first as captain.
Smith backed up off-the-field bravado by bringing the English attack to its knees with big double hundreds at Edgbaston and Lord’s.
South Africa were leading 2-1 when they arrived at the Oval for the fifth and final test.
On the second day of the test, bookies were offering 40 to one for an England win. South Africa had finished the first day on 362 for four and were set for a big first innings total which would effectively close out the series.
But England produced sharper cricket on day two and eventually restricted South Africa to 484. Still, Smith would not have expected to lose from that position. Herschelle Gibbs had been imperious for 183 and Gary Kirsten chipped in with 90.
However, Marcos Trescothick had not read the South African script and produced a double ton of sheer class while Graham Thorpe provided the anchor role with 124. Michael Vaughan declared England’s first innings closed on 604 for nine just before lunch on day four – a lead of 120.
At the close, South Africa were effectively 65 for six. The lower order succumbed meekly on day five and England rattled off the necessary 110 to rescue the series.
South Africa’s most recent visit to the Oval in 2008 was Kevin Pietersen’s first test as England captain. This time, South Africa had already won the series which prompted Vaughan to resign in tears.
England were in desperate need of a hero and they found one in Pietersen, who played a major part in extending South Africa’s losing record at the venue.
The tourists could muster 194 in their first turn at the crease to which England responded with 316, Pietersen leading from the front with a trademark 100.
Hashim Amla made 76 in the second innings and AB de Villiers 97 but a solid opening stand of 123 between Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss ensured England would emerge from a lost series with some pride restored.
It is pretty clear that history has not been kind to South African cricket at the Oval.
But Smith has absorbed a number of blows to his prominent, square jaw. He knows what it takes to battle the odds, and beat them. Just as well, because he will need to draw on all of his experience to buck the trend.