Devlin Malone passed the 200 wicket milestone for Sydney University Cricket Club, a remarkable effort in just his fourth season on campus.

The 21-year-old leg-spinner now has 215 scalps going into the qualifying-finals of the 2020-21 season. Devlin has played 106 matches for the Students in all formats (Belvedere Cup, T20 and Limited Overs), mostly in First Grade and Poidevin-Gray Shield (under 21) in his four playing seasons since arriving from the Sutherland District Cricket Club five years ago. He missed playing last season after breaking the thumb on his bowling hand in a fielding mishap.

Since linking up with SUCC, he’s taken five wickets in an innings eight times, including 6-36 in the 2016-17 Limited Overs quarter-final against Penrith and 5-34 in the 2018-19 Limited Overs quarter-final, also against Penrith. He finished that year with 61 First Grade scalps at 21.20 a wicket. His 215 wickets have come at a very economical 23.74 average.

Having completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise Physiology) degree, he’s now embarking on a Masters in physiotherapy. Devlin has been on Sydney Uni Sport’s Elite Athlete Program during his time on campus and is already a University Blue.

“I’ve been on the EAP for four years,” he said. “I love the program; it’s the best way for an athlete to combine sport with academia. It’s the best program in Australia, and the tutoring is free. I also used the finance for textbooks and sporting fees. The program also helped out when there were clashes with exams. The EAP staff took the stress out of scheduling. And the training facilities are first-class. I regard my academic life as just as important as my sport – I’m passionate about both.”

With a passion for health, rehabilitation and fitness, Devlin has worked as a medical receptionist at Sports Medicine Institute Australia since 2018.

When 18-year-old Devlin turned up to train with SUCC at the start of the 2016-17 season, there must have been a collective sigh of relief at the nets. The last time some of the players had seen him was the previous season when, playing for Sutherland, he took all 10 wickets in the second innings as the hosts routed Sydney University Seconds at Glenn McGrath Oval. The then 17-year-old schoolboy took 10-115, following his 6-23 haul in the first innings against the reigning premiers, to finish with match figures of 16-138, a record for the club.

“It was quite remarkable,” Sutherland District Cricket Club stalwart Tom Iceton said at the time. “(After taking eight wickets), he got hit for four fours in one over and (it seemed) he was a bit tired as he’d probably bowled about 25 overs by that stage.

“I thought they had better be careful not to get caught up in the romance of getting 10 wickets; the main objective’s still had to be to win the game. They gave him another over, and he got another wicket, and I thought, ‘well, they’re not going to take him off now.’ The captain was bowling from the other end, and I was just thinking, ‘I hope he (the batsman) doesn’t hit a catch to anyone.’ Devlin got the final wicket off the last ball of his next over and just went nuts. He did a massive jump in the air when the umpire put his finger up. You can go through a whole career and not see someone take 10 wickets in an innings, so I think everyone in the team was just excited that they were there as part of it.”

And it all came about because of the weather. In the week before the match, Sutherland’s First Grade spinner Riley Ayre was named 12th man for a Cricket Australia XI who were to play New Zealand at Blacktown International Sportspark Devlin was due to replace him in the top grade. However, when the match at Blacktown was abandoned due to inclement weather, Riley stayed in Firsts, and Devlin stayed in Seconds.

But the amazing bowling feat prompted the club selectors to elevate him to First Grade, and he didn’t let them down. Two weeks later, he became the youngest player in Sutherland District Cricket Club’s history to take a five-wicket haul in First Grade in a match against Hawkesbury at Glenn McGrath Oval. He finished with 6-42 from his 22.3 overs.

Devlin was already in the record books from the 2014-15 season when, as a 16-year-old, he became the first player in the history of Sydney grade cricket to take three wickets in the first over of his First Grade debut. It followed his appearances for NSW at the Australian Under-17 championships, where he starred with 11 wickets at the miserly average of 14.55.

Devlin took up the difficult craft of leg-spin bowling when he was 12, his interest sparked by one of the best of all time, Shane Warne. “I always wanted to bowl like him,” he said. “At that time, I realised I wasn’t going to be tall enough to be a fast bowler, so leg-spin became the option. When I first started trying to bowl leggies, I’d get hit around or bowl a bad ball regularly, but I still went with it and tried to land them on the spot.”

Devlin’s dad Brian, a former medium-pace bowler, took him to the local park every day to practise on the centre wicket. “He taught me how to bowl a wrong’un,” Devlin said. “It took me two years to get that right, but Dad kept encouraging me. I wasn’t taught the traditional leg-spin grip of holding the ball down the seam. I learnt to grip the ball across the seam, so I bowl ‘scrambled’ leggies.”

It was the scrambled leggies that cleaned up the Students, but he didn’t appear on the campus out of sympathy. And he certainly wasn’t poached. “When I finished the HSC, I wanted to study physiotherapy at Sydney University’s Cumberland campus,” he said. “I got into exercise-physiology, which has turned out to be a better option; it gave me more of a taste of university. It was a good platform for me to start.

“I always wanted to go to Sydney University; it had been one of my aims. When I started making enquiries, I heard about Sydney Uni Sport’s Elite Athlete Program, and I decided to get in touch and apply. Getting on the program allowed me to pursue education and a sporting career. It’s been really helpful during my time here.”

Devlin, who still lives at home in Janelli, in the Shire, says he enjoyed playing for Sutherland while still at school and is grateful for the coaching and opportunities the club afforded him and the friendships he made. One of those opportunities was being selected for NSW to contest the national Under 17 Championships, where he was one of the stars of the tournament with 11 wickets at 11.55.

Having been on the receiving end of his talent, SUCC had no hesitation selecting him in First Grade for the 2016-17 season opener, a limited-overs match against Campbelltown-Camden. He duly took 4-31 in the Students’ six-wicket win.

Three matches into the 2016-17 Sydney season, he was recruited by the Melbourne Stars to be part of their squad in the Big Bash competition. Each franchise signs on a development rookie and Devlin filled that role with The Stars. That placed him in the elite company of David Hussey, Glenn Maxwell, Kevin Pietersen, James Faulkner, Adam Zampa, Peter Handscomb, Cameron White, Matthew Wade, Adam Voges and George Bailey.

He spent the weeks before and after Christmas in Melbourne, living and training with the squad, played in a trial match and bowled to the stars in the nets. “It was unreal,” he said. “There is so much talent among the teams in the Big Bash competition. I bowled to them in the nets; it was awesome.”

The Melbourne Stars made it to the semi-finals but were beaten by the Perth Scorchers, who went on to claim the title. “The Stars lost some games due to a bad over here and there,” he said. “In Twenty20 cricket, every ball is crucial. It’s different to a two-day grade game or even a 50-over game where you can regain some momentum.”

While Devlin didn’t get a competition game with the franchise, he did play for the NSW Metro team in the 2016 Under 19 Championships in Darwin in December. Devlin took 13 wickets during the tournament at an average of 26.46.

He’s since played with the NSW XI and been with the Sydney Thunder franchise and the Sydney Sixers Academy. “I train with the squads and get to bowl against all of the leading players,” he said. “I’m also in the training squad for the NSW Seconds and played with the SCG XI team, which is organised by the SCG Trust. We’ve played a range of games, including against the Australian Army XI.

“Sydney Uni has been in four Belvedere Cup grand finals in recent years,” he said. “We’ve lost three and won last year by being first past the post. We also made the Limited Overs final this season but lost to St George. We’re still in contention to go back-to-back in the Belvedere Cup this year.”

It would be fitting if he added to that 215 wicket haul during the finals.