On August 30, 1977, the fifth and final Test of the Ashes at The Oval ended in a draw after much play time was lost to persistent rain. However, a debutant from the Australian side brightened up an otherwise dismal ending to their tour. Jaideep Vaidya has more on Mick Malone’s one and only Test match.
A gloomy, morose English summer for the touring Australians was soon reaching its much-awaited ending; Greg Chappell’s men could not wait to fly home after trailing 0-3, coming into the final Test at The Oval. Incessant rain had left sections of the square and outfield waterlogged and prevented a single ball being bowled on the first day. So, whatever hopes the Australians had of ending the series on a high were flowing away down the drain. Threats of more rain clouded over the sky as the Australians took to the field on Day Two, after opting to put England in to bat first.
Australia did well to restrict England to 181 for nine on Day Two; Jeff Thomson was the usual suspect with four wickets. However, sharing the new ball with him wasn’t Lenny Pascoe, who was out injured, but a 28-year-old debutant from Western Australia (WA) named Mick Malone, who went on to have one of the most memorable debuts ever.
Malone, a swing bowler by trade, had made his First-Class debut in 1975 against Victoria, and had taken five wickets in the match. In his second game, against New South Wales (NSW), he bettered himself and took seven wickets in the match, including that of Australia international and Blues captain Doug Walters.
Malone was a capable medium-paced swing bowler who bowled into the wind and swung it both ways. Conditions in England were perfect for his kind of bowling, but not even the most optimistic member of the touring party would have expected Malone to do the kind of things he did on his first tour and debut Test.
“I’d had a pretty average sort of tour and I was quite surprised, actually, to get the nod ahead of Lenny Pascoe because he’d been playing in the side,” Malone would tell The Age. “I almost felt that the selectors had decided, given that we were three-zip down, that they’d give me a game as a bit of a reward for the tour.
“When we won the toss and bowled, I thought the conditions were really good and I was really pleased to get the new ball because I thought maybe I wouldn’t, and I’d always been a new-ball bowler into the breeze, with Dennis Lillee coming down breeze for WA,” he said.
Malone bowled 43 tireless overs on Day Two and took five for 53, including the crucial wickets of England captain Mike Brearley, Derek Randall, Tony Greig, along with Alan Knott and John Lever in the lower order. “His only break was for two overs before lunch,” reported Wisden in their almanac report.
Australia were bowled out for 214 on the third morning, with Malone finishing on five for 63 in his first innings in Test cricket. Not just his teammates, but even he could not believe it. “…after I’d bowled 15 overs or so, I started to think: ‘This is going to be my one Test, I’m going to end up with no wickets and no one’s going to hear of me again.’ When I got the first wicket, it was almost a sense of relief: ‘I’m on the card!’
“I felt I was bowling well but maybe not good enough to get Test wickets, when all of a sudden I got one. It was fairytale stuff. It was way above anything I thought would happen, and to walk off with five-for was really something.”
Australia did not do too well themselves when they came out to bat. A mid-afternoon storm washed away the rest of Day Three with the score on 11 for one. A damp pitch greeted the two teams even after the rest day. Gritty knocks from David Hookes (85) and Rod Marsh (57) took Australia from 67 for three to 226 for six at the close of Day Four.
When the final day commenced, Australia had a slender lead and four wickets in hand. That was to become three soon enough when Hendrick scalped Marsh, and two when Ray Bright became Bob Willis’s fourth victim. This was when Malone strode out into the middle on a now typically slow Oval surface.
“I came into bat at No 10 with Tangles [Max Walker],” Malone remembered. “Bob Willis was bowling [and] I’ve got a big outside nick the third ball I faced. Tony Greig in that series had caught everything in the slips, and it went straight to Greigy at second slip and he’s dropped it. With that, Greigy said aloud, ‘How can this bloke bat ahead of Thommo [Jeff Thomson]?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, how can I?’ But whatever happened after that, everything started hitting the middle of the bat.
And just like that, Malone found the middle of his bat on a regular basis and put on 100 runs with Walker for the ninth wicket, before being castled by John Lever for 46 off 81 balls, including six boundaries. Thomson was the last wicket to fall, with Walker remaining unbeaten after a defiant 78, his highest Test score, and that too in quick time — taking just 84 balls. Australia were bowled out for 385 with just three hours of cricket left in the match.
Thomson removed Brearley soon, before he limped off with ankle niggle. Malone then added one more wicket to his name, that of Bob Woolmer, before a bad-light stoppage signalled the end of the match at 4.50 pm with England on 57 for two. Malone’s figures for the match read six for 77.
As it turned out, the Oval Test would be Malone’s last. Soon after, he signed on for the World Series Cricket, along with 12 others who were part of Australia’s 17-man squad to England. As a result, statistics, if read by the ignoramuses, will always show him to have a Test batting average of 46.00 and bowling average of 12.83.
Malone sees the funny side: “I look back on it all with no regrets. It was a fantastic opportunity that I had. Just as well I didn’t play any more Test matches to make a mess of things.”
England 214 (Mike Brearley 29, Geoffrey Boycott 39; Jeff Thomson 4 for 87, Mick Malone 5 for 63) and 57 for 2 (Geoffrey Boycott 25*; Mick Malone 1 for 14) drew with Australia 385 (David Hookes 85, Max Walker 78*, Mick Malone 46; Bob Willis 5 for 102).
(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)