Sydney University Cricket Club acquired a star of the future when a youngster from The Shire turned up to play this season, writes Graham Croker.
When 18-year-old leg-spinner Devlin Malone turned up to train with Sydney University Cricket Club (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 told foxsports.com.au 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 got 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 had been named 12th man for a Cricket Australia XI who were to play New Zealand at Blacktown International Sportspark and 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 legspin bowling when he was 12, his interest sparked by one of the best off 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 this season out of sympathy. And he certainly wasn’t poached.
“I finished the HSC last year and 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 will give me more of a taste of university. It’s a good platform for me to start.
“I always wanted to go to Sydney University, it’s been one of my aims. When I started making enquiries I heard about Sydney University Sport’s Elite Athlete Program and I decided to get in touch and apply.
“Getting on the program allows me to pursue education and a sporting career.” 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 the previous year, 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 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’ve been bowling to them in the nets, it’s been awesome.”
Maxwell, known in Australian colours as The Big Show, was very impressed with his young squad-mate.
“He’s a little superstar, very much in the same mould of Adam Zampa – shorter guy, skids it on, bowls stump-to-stump,” Maxwell said. “I can tell you from facing him in the nets, he’s pretty tough to get away. He’s had a few of the big boys in a bit of trouble. Hopefully he gets a crack and he can show the world what he does.”
Former Australian representative and Sutherland teammate Shane Watson was of the same opinion. He faced Devlin in the nets before going out to bat in a club game last season and found it almost impossible to pick his wrong’un.
“Later on, when I was fielding at first slip, I found it difficult to tell if he was bowling a wrong’un or a genuine leggie,” he said.
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.
Leading into the post-Christmas part of the Sydney grade competition, Devlin had played six First Grade games, two Twenty20 fixtures and three Poidevin-Gray (Under 21) games for the Students, taking 34 wickets at 28.84.
“I changed clubs to come to Sydney University,” he said. “It was my decision and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. The club has a great bunch of players, with a mixture of experience and youth. They have a different approach. I’ve been made really welcome and have already made good friends.”
Ten of whom probably played in that fateful innings at Glenn McGrath Oval the previous season.