Malcolm finds his fire just in time

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The Independent Online


reports from Kimberley

After almost three weeks of criticism, claim and counter-claim, Raymond Illingworth has finally said something nice about Devon Malcolm. It is not exactly a citation for a knighthood, but Illingworth admitted he was impressed by Malcolm's bowling in the nets yesterday.

For the first time since his knee operation in September, Malcolm was operating off his full run and somewhere close to maximum velocity. Illingworth's decision to massage Malcolm's confidence - rather than beat it with a big stick - might just be in time to infuse his fastest bowler with the necessary fire for the first Test next Thursday.

"That's the first time you've seen Devon come off his long run and put it in," the manager said. "If he can bowl like that I'll be happy. He looked quite impressive today."

If Malcolm bowls well against South Africa A starting here tomorrow, he is likely to play at Centurion Park, probably at the expense of Richard Illingworth. By naming five quick bowlers in their squad, South Africa have made it clear they expect the pitch to have some life and Malcolm is England's best means of responding in kind.

Robin Smith's chances of inclusion are more tenuous. England have given him every possible chance to recapture his form and, if he fails again here, John Crawley could be chosen. "Robin has a fine track record," Illingworth says, "and we'd like to him to play in the Test. But Crawley will have a net every day so he remains in good nick if Robin does not come through this match."

In the last game before the Test, only Dominic Cork of those certain to play next week is missing. He has a blistered toe.

Graham Thorpe rejoined the tour yesterday after spending some time with his wife, who lost their baby. Thorpe's only innings was in a day- night match a fortnight ago, but his selection for the Test will not even be an issue. After Atherton, he is the first batsman to be written down.

''The management were very understanding," Thorpe said. "I needed to make sure Nicky was OK and if I had not gone home I would only have been fretting here.

''I've got a bit of catching up to do," Thorpe added. "But I'm not too worried about having only one match before the first Test. I still think I'll be up to playing in it."

ENGLAND (Four-day match v South Africa A, KImberley, starting tomorrow) From: M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, R A Smith, R C Russell (wkt), M Watkinson, D Gough, A R C Fraser, D E Malcolm, M C Ilott.

SOUTH AFRICA A: J B Commins (Boland, capt), G F J Liebenberg (Orange Free State), P J R Steyn (Orange Free State), J H Kallis (Western Province), L J Wilkinson (Orange Free State), L Klusener (Natal), S J Palframan (Border, wkt), R Telemachus (Boland), N Boje (Orange Free State), P Adams (Western Province), S D Jack (Transvaal).

England A on the brink, page 27