Cricket: Malcolm mayhem to fire up England: West Indies is the place for pace as the tourists will no doubt find in their first game tomorrow. Martin Johnson reports on a fast bowler's return to his roots

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The Independent Online
WHEN Sky Sports bought up the television rights for England's winter series in the West Indies, there was probably a clause in the small print insisting on Devon Malcolm's inclusion in the tour party. The theory being that should the satellite go on the blink, there is always the option of beaming back the pictures off one of Malcolm's looseners.

Malcolm has always had a reputation for producing the sort of delivery that would make David Gower think twice about buzzing the ground for fear of being shot down, and in his early Test career, forward short leg would rarely crouch down without feeling that there was a better than even chance of being pinged on the posterior.

However, Malcolm's performance when he was recalled for England's final Test victory over Australia last summer suggested that he now allies a good bit more control to his undoubted pace, and if he and Angus Fraser can stay fit for the full five-Test series, England will not be the hapless no-hopers that the nation's bookmakers would have us believe.

It requires no more than a cursory glance at the annual first-class averages in the Caribbean to discover that West Indian batsmen enjoy cricket balls fizzing past their nostrils no more than anyone else's. And Malcolm is arguably the quickest bowler on either side.

He invariably cuts a low profile off the field - plugged into some reggae music on his Walkman, or having a solitary meal in the hotel coffee shop - but behind the soporific exterior, he is a menacing figure with a cricket ball in his hand. England's arsenal is certainly not bare if they require some retaliatory ammunition this winter.

On England's last visit in 1990, Malcolm enjoyed a memorable first two Tests in Jamaica and Trinidad (the one in between, in Guyana, was washed out) when the tourists were only deprived of a 2-0 lead with two to play through a combination of rain and West Indian delaying tactics on the final day in Port of Spain.

In Jamaica, Malcolm altered the course of the match by demonstrating that his fielding was every bit as erratic as his bowling. Gordon Greenidge was persuaded to try and add a second run to an easy single when Malcolm misfielded at long leg, and was spectacularly run out when Malcolm's powerful arm fizzed the ball back straight over the top of the stumps.

'I rate that my most important Test wicket,' Malcolm says, slightly tongue in cheek, given that he twice dismissed Viv Richards at crucial moments in that game. In the second innings, he put a spoke in what was developing into a serious West Indian recovery by plucking out Richards' leg stump, and on quiet nights at home in Derby he still reruns the video of that moment.

Malcolm was man of the match in Trinidad, and indicative of the way that the West Indians were worried about him was the way Richards set out to demolish him in the fourth Test in Barbados. Richards' first five balls from Malcolm went: hook 6, dot, cut 4, top-edged hook 2, and finally a mishooked 6 that only just cleared Alec Stewart on the boundary. It was a riveting contest, but England's acting captain Allan Lamb did just what Richards wanted him to do by promptly removing Malcolm from the attack.

'I think I have a lot more control than I had then,' Malcolm said, 'but bowling fast is what got me into the side in the first place, and that's how I see my job. At times, I think I can bowl as quickly as anyone in the world, and the way that cricket is played in the West Indies should give me an extra yard. The atmosphere is tremendous, and it always gives me a big lift.'

He may, initially, have had somewhat different feelings on this subject when he arrived at Sabina Park for the 1990 Test in his native Jamaica to be greeted by banners that were something other than the 'welcome home, Dev' variety. 'Traitor' and 'White Man's Lackey' were two of the kinder slogans, but as the match progressed, so the spectators' sentiments altered.

'It was never more than friendly stick,' Malcolm said, 'and the banners never bothered me. The spectators appreciate good cricket and at the end of the game they were swarming all over me with congratulations.'

If it happens again, Malcolm might ask them to go easy on the backslapping as he now finds himself the oldest member (by about six months from Robin Smith) in England's fresh-faced squad. 'It worries me a bit,' Malcolm said, 'although no one has started calling me grandad just yet.'

Malcolm was 26 when he made his England debut against Australia four and a half years ago, when Allan Border's team inflicted England's biggest Ashes defeat in this country, an innings and 180 runs. Malcolm's contribution of 1 for 166 was the sort to make you want to change your name, which Ted Dexter promptly did at the post- mortem with the memorable comment: 'And don't forget Malcolm Devon.'

The 1990 tour to the West Indies suggested that Malcolm would be England's premier strike bowler for years to come, but he subsequently went through a period when he lost his action and his pace, prompting one member of the tour party to Australia in 1990- 91 to describe him as 'bowling like an old tart'.

Latterly, the England selectors have tended to share their view. Since he was dropped after the second Test of the home series against the West Indies in 1991, Malcolm has been picked for only seven of England's 22 Tests, a statistic, he says, that causes him 'acute disappointment'.

'There have been too many low points in the past few years' - the lowest, he says, being last year's winter tour to the subcontinent when his own less than sparkling contribution was 3 for 170 in two Tests. 'Getting whupped all around the park was humiliating,' he said, 'but hopefully something positive will come out of it. What happened in India and Sri Lanka has made this winter's team more determined not to experience anything like it again.'

(Photograph omitted)

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