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Toss: South Africa. Test debut: J. E. Benjamin.
It will always be Malcolm's Match but there was so much more to this astonishing Test than Devon Malcolm's nine for 57 in South Africa's second innings. When the game ended 19 minutes before lunch on the fourth day, only 255.2 overs had been bowled; if the bowlers had kept to the prescribed 90 overs a day, it could have finished at five o'clock on the third day. Runs came at nearly four an over; a wicket fell every 48 balls; Jonty Rhodes went to hospital after being struck on the helmet by Malcolm; Atherton and De Villiers were fined for dissent and both teams for their slow over-rates; and Malcolm delivered himself of a threat so graphic when he was hit in his turn that it has already become part of cricket folklore. The content, excitement and drama were at the level of a Superman film; value for money, even at TCCB ticket prices.
Winning the toss meant batting, but this true, fast pitch offered help to the bowlers too. Like South Africa, England had picked four seamers - introducing Benjamin and bringing back Malcolm in place of Fraser and Tufnell. Soon after Rhodes was escorted off the field, four overs beyond lunch, this attack had effectively reduced South Africa to 136 for six. The half-brothers Gary and Peter Kirsten - opening in a Test at The Oval 114 years after the Grace brothers W. G. and E. M. went out there together for England - Cronje, Wessels and Cullinan, playing in place of the out-of-form Hudson, had all been swept aside. The ball from Malcolm that struck Rhodes was fast and nasty. Rhodes ducked so low that Malcolm considered an lbw appeal. Rhodes's team-mates were worried that his epilepsy might make his condition worse. He was taken to the neurosurgery unit of Maudsley Hospital for a scan, given the all-clear but kept in overnight with concussion. Having handwritten his own lucid account of events rather than be interviewed, he did not return to bat until seven wickets fell in the second innings.
McMillan, who was also hit by Malcolm but survived to make 93 in four and a half hours, and Richardson revived South Africa with a sixth-wicket stand of 124 in 30 overs. But Benjamin, a Surrey favourite in his first Test, and Defreitas picked up four wickets each. Once it was clear that Rhodes would not be returning yet, South Africa were all out for 332 early on the second day.
England made a traumatic start when Atherton was given lbw to his first-ball, looked at his bat and shook his head repeatedly as he left: that evening he was summoned before the match referee, Peter Burge, fined half his match fee - £1,250 - and reprimanded. With Gooch also going cheaply, men of Surrey again held sway, as Thorpe made his third successive 70 and Stewart a dashing 62. But the power of Donald got rid of Hick and Crawley, who looked a year short of maturity. Just when it seemed that England had had the worst of the day, Defreitas and Gough added 59 exhilarating runs in the final half-hour and England were only 28 behind when the innings finished next morning. That was after Gooch had called the team together in Atherton's absence and urged them to rally behind the captain. It was also after Malcolm was hit on the helmet, straight between the eyes, first ball by De Villiers. He was not hurt, only angry. He stared back at the fielders who gathered round. "You guys are going to pay for this," he was reported to have said. "You guys are history."
Malcolm turned his words into action in 99 balls, the most devastating spell by an England bowler since Jim Laker wiped out the Australians in 1956. It was the sixth-best Test analysis ever and, until Cullinan was caught off Gough, it looked as if Malcolm might join Laker by taking all ten. The Kirstens and Cronje had gone for one run and the last six wickets fell for 38, with only Cullinan, who made 94, standing firm for long. Malcolm produced a series of classic deliveries: five catches to slip and wicket-keeper from lifting balls, a bouncer hooked to long-leg, a desperately determined caught and bowled and two sets of stumps sent clattering by yorkers. He answered every question save one. Why did the selectors make him wait so long to bowl against a team who appeared alarmed by fast bowling?
England were left to make 204 and, for the first time since the Trent Bridge Test against New Zealand, Gooch showed the value of his experience. His fitness had been in doubt and Gatting had been called up as cover, but now his bold strokes inspired Atherton so that 56 came in five overs - when Gooch was bowled - 79 off ten and 107 in 16 by the close. This incisive batting settled the match and the new, mature Hick sealed England's success. He strode towards an undefeated run-a-ball 81 in the style he had so often displayed for Worcestershire. De Villiers thought he had him caught behind at 53 and expressing doubts about umpire Palmer's verdict cost him 25 per cent of his match fee. By the time his team had been fined 70 per cent of their fees for bowling 14 overs short of their target on the second day, he was left with £70 for his 31 overs, four wickets and 14 runs. England were fined 30 per cent for being six overs short. De Villiers will find it no consolation that he played in one of the great Tests. South Africa's performance was wretched compared with their win at Lord's, but England saw the victory as a rebirth, not for the first time.
Man of the Match: D. E. Malcolm.
Attendance: 59,705; receipts £1,390,551.
Men of the Series: England - D. E. Malcolm; South Africa - B. M. McMillan.
Close of play: First day, South Africa 326-8 (B. M. McMillan 91*, A. A. Donald 11*); Second day, England 281-7 (P. A. J. DeFreitas 37*, D. Gough 25*); Third day, England 107-1 (M. A. Atherton 42*, G. A. Hick 27*).