Cricket: Third Test: Malcolm is on cloud nine: England stand on brink of levelling series as South Africans are destroyed by a lethal spell of pace bowling

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A DEVASTATING spell of fast bowling by Devon Malcolm, who took nine wickets for 57 in 16.3 deadly overs, firmly tilted this third Cornhill Test match England's way yesterday, as South Africa were dismissed in their second innings for 175. It was the best return of the brawny fast bowler's career and the sixth best in the history of the Test cricket - the perfect 10 only spoiled by Darren Gough late in the innings. Having trailed South Africa by 28 runs on the first innings, England ended the day needing 104 more runs to win, with nine second innings wickets still standing. Barring a calamity of biblical proportions, the series should be levelled today.

The day began auspiciously for Malcolm when he removed the first three batsmen in the space of nine balls, but it was his three wickets either side of tea and his polishing off of the tail that, despite a plucky knock by Darryl Cullinan, was crucial.

Malcolm, who has not played for England since a knee injury sidelined him at Sabina Park in the winter, bowled with great speed and heart. He kept pounding in from the Pavilion end, the urgency of England's cause and the adrenalin keeping his powerful frame going.

Malcolm's display may not have been unconnected with the fact that Fanie de Villiers's first ball to him in England's first innings was a bouncer that struck the bowler on his visor. If this rude greeting was meant to intimidate Malcolm, it backfired badly and the three torrid balls it took to remove Gary Kirsten were nothing short of brutal. Having narrowly avoided decapitation from the first, the left-hander ducked the next ball, but, caught in two minds over the length of the third - another short delivery - he took his eye off it and ended up punching it up in the air, where it hung agonisingly while Malcolm bore down on it.

With South Africa yet to score, this was a double triumph; England had made an early breakthrough and Malcolm had held on to a tricky catch, things that rarely happen in isolation let alone in tandem. But if this start made up for the botched end-of-innings batting by England, and the removal of Peter Kirsten immediately afterwards, briliantly caught by DeFreitas at fine leg, represented real inroads, then Hansie Cronje's dismissal two balls later meant that the interior had been reached.

Cronje was completely undone by the classic fast bowler's one-two. After another searing bouncer, Malcolm pitched one up and Cronje, late into both line and stroke, could only stand in disbelief, a forlorn figure as his stumps lay scattered.

As expected, South Africa began their salvage operation through their captain Kepler Wessels, this time partnered by the mercurial Cullinan. Together, they put on 72 runs for the fourth wicket, mixing dogged defence with occasional attack. With Malcolm still trying to redirect his radar - having come around the wicket - Wessels flashed at a wide one that he did well to reach and gave Steve Rhodes a simple catch behind.

At 73 for four, and with only a slender first innings lead of 28, South Africa were still in deep trouble and it was left to Cullinan, a last-minute replacement, to dig them out.

He adopted a clever mixture of ducking, hooking and pulling against Malcolm's short balls that clearly bamboozled the bowler so that when he pitched it up, Cullinan was in position to punch the ball into the yawning acres in front of the crease. As the ball got older, England seemed to go off the boil and Cullinan brought up his 50 with a superb cover drive. While Malcolm rested, both he and McMillan prospered, although the the latter was dropped by Graham Gooch.

Luckily, the miss did not prove expensive and it was Malcolm again, this time from the Vauxhall Road end, who removed the burly all-rounder after he edged the ball to Thorpe at first slip. With the score on 143 for five at tea, the game was still evenly balanced, but when Malcolm removed both Dave Richardson and Craig Matthews afterwards, the balance had tilted England's way.

Jonty Rhodes then made his first appearance since being struck by Malcolm on the first day; he slashed at one wide of off-stump to be well caught by his namesake behind the stumps. At this stage, the end was nigh, and came as Allan Donald was bowled two balls later, the ball cannoning into the stumps off his pads.

When England batted for the second time, Michael Atherton and Gooch clocked up the fifty partnership off only 30 balls. Gooch was in belligerent mood until Matthews brought one back off the seam to bowl him off stump.

Atherton, too, was in fine fettle and Gooch's loss seemed to spur him on. Even when Donald returned to try and exploit Graeme Hick's uncertainty against pace, the tempo of runs failed to slow, and when Donald dropped in successive short balls, Hick smashed both of them to the mid-wicket boundary. Another hour of batting like this again today and lunch should see England popping the champagne corks.

Test bowling milestones

10-53 England v Australia (Manchester, 1956) J C Laker 9-28 England v South Africa (Johannesburg, 1895-96) G A Lohmani 9-37 England v Australia (Manchester, 1956) J C Laker 9-52 New Zealand v Australia (Brisbane, 1985-86) R J Hadley 9-56 Pakistan v England (Lahore, 1987-88) Abdul Qadir 9-57 England v South Africa (The Oval, 1994) D E Malcolm 9-69 India v Australia (Kanpur, 1959-60) J M Patel 9-83 India v West Indies (Ahmedabad, 1983-84) Kapil Dev 9-86 Pakistan v Australia (Melbourne, 1978-79) Sarfraz Nawaz 9-95 West Indies v India (Port of Spain, 1970-71) J M Noreiga 9-102 India v West Indies (Kanpur, 1958) S P Gupte 9-103 England v South Africa (Johannesburg, 1913) S F Barnes 9-113 South Africa v England (Johannesburg, 1957) H J Tayfield 9-121 Australia v England (Melbourne, 1921) A A Mailey

(Photograph omitted)