Cricket / Fifth Test: Malcolm's individual effort belies his team-man aspirations: Graeme Wright assesses a singular England success at The Oval

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THE TIME was when cricket was said to be a team game played by 11 individuals. These days, in England anyway, received opinion is that individualism is secondary to team effort. As a philosophy it has had its day; as cricket, from the spectators' viewpoint, it is not often the most entertaining spectacle. Pakistan's attempts to get 11 individuals to gel as a team can be a lot more fun.

Still, the heart was warmed yesterday by Devon Malcolm's success. He probably aspires to the team ethos, and yet he does not always seem to be part of it. He is his own man. He tries hard and bowls his heart out. When it comes to method, he is a blaster, not a master in the manner of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. No subtle variations of swing and seam for him. His weapon is pace, pure and simple. But when he is on song, the crowd sings along with him. They appreciate the heart and effort he puts into his bowling because it is always apparent. The England management may see Devon as a team man, but he has it in him to be a personality.

His critics might ask whether or not he has it in him to be a Test bowler, and his figures could support their argument. He came into this match with 69 wickets for England at an average of 37.37 and 30 first-class wickets this summer for an average of almost 42. On the other hand, his strike rate was better than all the England bowlers except Neil Mallender.

At the Oval he has bowled well, and after the performance of England's batsmen in the afternoon, their fans had little else to reflect on cheerfully as they made their way home. In the morning, when it was essential that England broke through, he looked the bowler most likely to succeed.

The balls with which he removed Salim Malik and Wasim could hardly be bettered. Nor could the one, previous to Malik's dismissal, which pitched on the off-stump and whistled over the top of it while Malik was still coming to terms with the line and length.

When Gooch's catch at mid-off gave Malcolm his fifth wicket, his figures were 5 for 80 in 24.3 overs and compared well with Wasim's 5 for 67 from 22 overs on Thursday. The difference was that Wasim was wiping out a sorry England tail. Malcolm removed Pakistan's openers on Friday, having waited until the ball was 13 overs old before getting his hands on it. Yesterday, he was given the new ball and Pakistan's middle order was his reward.

At the press conference which followed Friday's play, the England manager Micky Stewart said the reason for giving Mallender the new ball ahead of Malcolm was because both had wanted to bowl from the Pavilion End - and Mallender was given the nod because of his ability to make the ball leave the batsman. A strange enough decision in view of Malcolm's selection as strike-bowler, it looked even stranger when, after a few overs, Mallender could find nothing in the pitch or the atmosphere. He was more in his element later in the day when England settled for containment. He came into his own after lunch yesterday by putting a two-line whip on the Pakistan tail.

By the close, however, Pakistan had pulled away to a very useful lead, helped by a pleasant debut half-century from their wicketkeeper, Rashid Latif. What England needed was someone to remind Rashid where his ribcage was, or settle his hash for wearing a cap rather than a helmet. Instead, and too often, the bouncers that were called for rose harmlessly high outside the off-stump.