As part of Wisden’s 1990s in Review series, Sankalp Srivastava looks at the Test spells of the 1990s chosen to be fifth to second-best of the decade.
No.2: Muttiah Muralitharan 9-65
Sri Lanka v England
Only Test, The Oval, 1998
Even the world champions tag wasn’t enough for Sri Lanka to be awarded more than just a one-off Test on their tour to England in 1998. But Muralitharan and co. ensured over the course of the next two and a half weeks that this was the last time that they would play a solitary Test in the country.
The match wasn’t going to plan at first after Arjuna Ranatunga put England in to bat at The Oval, as Graeme Hick and John Crawley’s centuries took England to a first innings total of 445 despite a Murali seven-for. But a double century from Sanath Jayasuriya and another big ton from Aravinda de Silva handed the touring party a crucial 146-run lead. Then it was over to Murali.
Bowling first-change, the off-spinner ran through the England batting line-up. All of them but Alec Stewart – who was caught short of the crease by Upul Chandana – fell to Murali’s guile. Five of his nine wickets were either bowled or leg before. It was the best bowling analysis by a Sri Lankan before Murali bettered his own record four years later, returning figures of 9-51 against Zimbabwe in Kandy. His match returns of 16-220 are still the fifth-best bowling figures in a Test.
No.3: Devon Malcolm 9-57
England v South Africa
3rd Test, The Oval, 1994
A Fanie de Villiers bouncer that struck Devon Malcolm’s helmet and took a piece off it seemingly did the trick. He was the last English wicket to fall in the first innings as South Africa secured a slender 28-run lead, but the Oval Test of 1994 was about to turn on its head and Malcolm was to be the protagonist, with an infamous verbal response a prelude to an incredible spell.
His first delivery was a sign of what was to come – a searing bouncer which whistled past Gary Kirsten and was still rising when it thudded into the gloves of Steve Rhodes. Kirsten departed three balls later, trying to save himself from another venomous bouncer. Half-brother Peter departed trying to hook yet another short one from Malcolm before Hansie Cronje was undone by a textbook in-swinger, all with just one run on the board.
Malcolm continued with the same ferocity, picking up the next four South African wickets to reduce them to 143-7 before Darren Gough took the only non-Malcolm wicket of the innings, that of Darryl Cullinan. Jonty Rhodes was his eighth and Allan Donald his ninth as Malcolm registered the then sixth-best Test figures of all time.
No.4: Fanie de Villiers 6-43
South Africa v Australia
2nd Test, Sydney, 1994
Set 117 to win with a batting line0up boasting the likes of Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, David Boon, Allan Border, Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn, Australia would have expected smooth sailing in the Sydney Test of 1994 against South Africa. But Fanie de Villiers, playing only his second Test crashed their party, and in some style.
Slater was the first to go – failing to read a de Villiers delivery that straightened after pitching on a good length to take his off stump. Though Boon and Taylor added 47 for the second wicket, the former was undone by a brilliant piece of fielding by Gary Kirsten at short leg. Nightwatchman Tim May was trapped in front on the next delivery. Taylor followed him in de Villiers’ next over.
Donald removed Border and Waugh before de Villiers got Ian Healy to complete his five-for and Shane Warne was run out as Australia were reduced to 75-8, still 42 away from the target. But Martyn and Craig McDermott set about stitching a match-saving partnership, and nearly pulled it off. Needing just seven more to win, Martyn slashed hard at a Donald delivery only to find Alan Hudson at cover. Glenn McGrath added a run but de Villiers had him caught and bowled to complete a thrilling victory for South Africa.
No.5: Lance Klusener 8-64
South Africa v India
2nd Test, Kolkata, 1996
Making his Test debut, Lance Klusener’s first-innings returns weren’t too impressive – he scored 10 runs and took no wickets while being hit for five consecutive fours by Mohammad Azharuddin. But he more than made up for it in the second innings.
South Africa set India 467 to win, and t hough completing the chase seemed impossible, they were well equipped to save the match with a little over a day to see things through. But Klusener removed Nayan Mongia, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman in a ferocious opening spell with Pat Symcox dismissing Tendulkar as India finished the fourth day at 59-4.
After adding five more to his total, Rahul Dravid was bowled by Brian McMillan in the first session of the last day, which opened the floodgates. Klusener picked up all of the remaining Indian wickets, including that of Azharuddin, to finish with the fourth-best bowling figures on debut.