The media are describing it as a new era. Yet, the England Test cricket team of 2008 is comparable to that of 1977, the last time a South African was captaining England, in that it is almost entirely made up of white men.
Indeed, for two countries who might pretend to have moved on from race, the English and South African cricket teams are both curiously caucasian affairs. Makhaya Ntini, that great but tiring fast bowler, is the only black South African who is playing for the national team in the current Test match. Likewise, Monty Panesar is the only non-white player in the England XI.
This is not to suggest that the selectors are overlooking non-white players in favour of white players. It is more that English cricket itself seems to have returned to being the preserve of white, mainly public-school educated boys.
Twasn't always thus. During the 1990s, many of England's greatest cricketers were non-white. Chris Lewis, the mercurial all-rounder. Joey Benjamin, the excellent medium pacer who was only given the chance to play one Test. Phillip DeFreitas, England's most consistent fast bowler before Gough and Caddick came along. Mark Butcher, the Surrey batsman whose England career started horribly, but who became one of our most reliable batsmen. Mark Ramprakash, the man who has just scored his 100th first class century (he wasn't always a dancer, you know). Nasser Hussain, the Kinnock to Michael Vaughan's Blair (and I mean that in the best possible way).
And Devon Malcolm.
Malcolm had struggled during the 1994 series against South Africa - a victim of his own waywardness - and was known to be at odds with the coach, Ray Illingworth. It was only the bounciness of the Oval pitch and his fine record on the ground that made Illingworth pick him for the third Test over Phil Tufnell. In the first innings he had taken a single wicket (Peter Kirsten for 16) in South Africa's total of 332 all out. England got 304 in reply, with 50s from Thorpe and Stewart and a nifty run-a-ball 42 from Darren Gough, but the most notable moment of the innings was when Devon Malcolm (a ferret, so-called because they go in after the rabbits) got bounced by Fanie de Villiers. Malcolm was seriously offended. "You guys are history," he muttered to the slipfield.
And then this happened.
I remember watching it, wrapped in a duvet in the Lake District, in between increasingly desperate dashes to the bathroom. It is still the most spiteful bit of bowling I've ever seen. The bouncer to McMillan is unplayable. Steve Rhodes's catch to dismiss Craig Matthews is exquisite. And the yorker to dismiss Cronje is so clever (see how Malcolm changes the angle at the last minute, bowling from way wide of the umpire so that the ball screams into the batsman). Malcolm himself prized Cronje's wicket more than any other:
If you look on the footage he was in the perfect forward defence position, but the ball bowled him half an hour before he put the bat down! A couple of balls before that I went around the wicket and he was fending the ball from around his earholes. Then I pitched the ball up over the wicket, that's what a good fast bowler does because he was tentative from the short-pitched stuff.