A Day in the Sun: Neil Mallender - Barmy Army Menu
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A Day in the Sun: Neil Mallender

This is the first in our new ‘A Day in the Sun’ feature series by Tim Ferrone (@WrappedUpMuso), which focusses on those whose England appearances might have been relatively few and far between, but nevertheless made an impression…

You might be familiar with the notion that England’s selection policy of the late 80s and 90s (let’s be polite about this shall we!?) lacked somewhat for consistency. This was after all, the era that preceded the concept that having players contracted to the national team first and foremost might help engender both a sense of team culture and of long-term belonging. Factor in also that certain venues were perceived (rightly, in this instance) to provide very specific conditions that were likely to favour certain types of bowler, and the combination tended to deliver a panacea for lovers of life’s more random moments. The result was a boon for short-termism.

Let’s rewind specifically then to 1992 when England welcomed their recent World Cup conquering foes Pakistan for a five-Test bilateral series. Both teams featured an abundance of bat-wielding behemoths with which to entertain, from Graham Gooch, David Gower, Ian Botham, Robin Smith, Alec and Stewart, to Javed Miandad, Saleem Malik, double centurion Aamir Sohail, and even a young Inzamam.

It was with the ball though, that the difference between the two sides truly lay, for not only were the visitors able to call upon the guile and deception (this was before the term ‘mystery spinner’ had been coined) of leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, but even more destructively, upon the reverse swinging yorkers of Waqar Younis, and the equally unfathomable left-arm pace of Wasim Akram – provider of the definitive momentum swing of the aforementioned World Cup final. 

England did start the series with some pace of their own, variously shuffling their pack between a pre-‘you guys are history’ Devon Malcolm and the collective seam talents of the likes of Chris Lewis and Phil DeFreitas. If it looked like a less threatening offering, then that’s because it was, making it not wholly surprising that with two tests remaining, England found themselves 1-0 down in the series.

All was not lost going into the potentially series-defining fourth Test though, to be played at the notoriously seam-friendly Headingley. Whole-heartedly abandoning woolly wafflings regarding ‘class being permanent,’ and emphatically adopting the notion of ‘horses-for-courses,’ England’s selectors opted for a decidedly ‘military medium yet hooping it’ bowling attack, in the form of Lewis, Derek Pringle, and county cricket stalwarts Tim Munton and Neil Mallender. Whilst Messrs Lewis and Pringle at least amassed in excess of 60 Test appearances between the two of them, it is perhaps noteworthy that the combined total four Test caps of Warwickshire’s Munton and Somerset’s Mallender were claimed solely within the confines of English shores.

Whilst the career Test wicket head-to-head of the respective bowling units substantially favoured the tourists (Pakistan’s quadruplet eventually amassing 1,026 scalps, versus the home side’s meagre 177), for once this was a match where the statistics really did lie.

Understandably confident in his team’s resources, Miandad opted to bat first upon winning the toss. Yet it was the county cricket-honed talents of England’s seam attack that utilised the conditions perfectly, reducing the tourists to 128-8, with both Mallender and Pringle proving impossible to resist, largely providing England’s behind wicket catchers with ample opportunity to practice their skills. Only an excellent unbeaten 82 from Malik helped inch Pakistan towards the 200-mark before the away team themselves would have a chance to utilise the conditions. 

Initially, the script steadfastly refused to deviate from its home-favouring path. Instead of any sign of reciprocal slip-catching practice, first Gooch and Mike Atherton made their way to 168 before the latter was replaced by Smith and helped accelerate the score to 270. Smith’s departure for eight short of a half-century finally proved the catalyst for the momentum-ometer to begin its merry dance in the opposite direction.

Despite a batting line-up that benefitted from the luxuries of Mark Ramprakash at number six, and Graeme Hick at seven in the order, the series-familiar patterns of the combination of Pakistani reverse swing mastery and English collapse resulted in a relative subsidence to 320 all out. 

With a lead of just over 120 then, and England notoriously fallible under the pressure of a run chase, the third innings of the match was always likely to prove decisive in the ultimate match result.

Yet cometh the hour, cometh the Mallender, for it was he who stepped up to grasp the opportunity in a sustained spell of swing bowling excellence, removing Sohail, Asif Mujtaba, and captain Miandad all caught-behind before the scores were levelled up.

He returned to complete his maiden five-for via the help of Hick’s instinctive left arm grab at second slip, and bowling Waqar; and even 90s England couldn’t mess up a run chase of just 99 to level the series. Mallender completed second innings figures of 5 for 50 and 8 for 122 in the match, only losing out to first inning centurion Gooch for the man of the match award.

It would seem unthinkable in the contemporary era, but Mallender’s eight-wicket Test debut was also to prove to be his second to last appearance for England; the final match of the series yielding just two wickets for him at the Oval, as the tourist’s superiority was finally rewarded with a 2-1 series win courtesy of a straightforward 10 wicket victory. 

Overlooked for the subsequent winter tour, Mallender was never again selected to play for England and finished his career with an eye-catching average of 21.50. No less a judge than Richie Benaud himself felt the decision not to pick him was ‘disgraceful,’ yet the selectors might have argued that with six of his eight Headingley wickets caught behind, he had simply done precisely what he was appointed to do on the occasion. 

With injuries beginning to take their toll on a bowler whose professional career ultimately spanned sixteen seasons, Mallender returned to his native county Northamptonshire before retiring in 1996, subsequently becoming a first class, and then an international umpire.

But Mallender’s day in the sun should not be forgotten and what better way to relive it than accompanied by the dulcet tones of the Christopher Martin Jenkins and Richie Benaud among others…