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Cricket World Cup History: Allan Donald, South Africa’s top wicket-taker in the World Cup

ANALYST
Feature
179   //    Timeless

Allan Donald played a huge role in framing the pace attack of the Proteas
Allan Donald played a huge role in framing the pace attack of the Proteas

The great South African express was a model fast bowler. Quick, aggressive, hardworking, and a fierce competitor, Allan Donald was one of the best of all time. An attacking bowler, be it Test cricket or the One-day version, he could always be relied upon to achieve the improbable. Big and strong, he ran in fast and had a quick action, pushing the ball extremely swiftly through the air. But the scowl was liable to break into a broad smile in a jiffy. He could be nasty and mean on the field, and just as friendly and generous off it. He was without a doubt one of the terrific characters of the modern game.

South Africa’s re-entry into international cricket came at the right time for Donald, for he was already 25 years old, and further delay may have lopped off far too many fruitful years off a great career. The South Africans wasted no time in assimilating themselves in the top league of the game, and Donald was an embodiment of this quick adjustment.

Allan Donald often electrified the atmosphere.
Allan Donald often electrified the atmosphere.

Both got off to a flying start in the 1992 tournament, in no way over-awed by defending champions and hosts Australia in a day-night game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Donald bowled with his customary fire to capture three wickets for 34 in his 10 overs, restricting the Aussies to 170 for nine in 49 overs. South Africa sailed through by nine wickets to pick up from where they had left off in 1970. And the South African President FW de Klerk expressed his nation’s sentiment: “.....a victory for all of us over isolation and dejection.”

The new generation South Africans, however, soon learned how tough international cricket really is, as the New Zealand team returned them the compliment at Auckland. The Kiwis cruised to a seven-wicket win with more than 15 overs to spare, and Donald had to remain content with a lone wicket.

But the fiery speedster was not to be denied for long. He was at his aggressive best at Wellington against Sri Lanka. He made a shambles of the top order, having Chandika Hathurusingha caught by skipper Kepler Wessels for 5, and immediately trapping Asanka Gurusinha leg-before for a duck. Then he bowled captain Aravinda de Silva for 7 to send Sri Lanka reeling at 35 for three. The match turned into a humdinger as Arjuna Ranatunga played a superlative inning, and Sri Lanka managed to barely eke out a three-wicket win off the penultimate delivery. Donald finished with three for 42 off 9.5 overs.

Also Read: Top wicket-takers in the World Cup

Donald was bang on target against the West Indies, conceding just 13 runs in 6.4 overs, picking up one wicket. Meyrick Pringle bowled a devastating spell to shoot out the West Indies for 136, and register the second win.

Donald went through an uneventful phase as the South Africans battled their way through the tournament. Thereafter he pushed India on to the back foot in a rain-affected fixture, dismissing opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth for a duck, and rattling the timber of a Kapil Dev in full flow. He finished with figures of two for 34 off 6 overs. South Africa raced to an exciting win in the last over of the truncated match.

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The Proteas were surprise semi-finalists, and they gave England a run for their money at Sydney. They may, in fact, have won, had it not been for the crazy rule concerning re-setting of targets in rain-interrupted matches. Donald again struck a shattering early blow, having skipper Graham Gooch caught behind for two. Later he similarly dismissed Allan Lamb as the English were piling on the runs. Though Donald was expensive, conceding 69 runs in his 10 overs, he had picked up two crucial wickets.

It may not have been a brilliant World Cup for Donald but it was a commendable performance. He was South Africa’s best bowler, as he was for the best part of a decade since the end of the exile. He took 13 wickets in the 9 matches at an average of 25.30, and an economy rate of 4.21, fine figures for one finding his feet in the big league.

Donald was plagued by injury in 1996 but was on target in the matches that he did play. For a start, there was a veritable walkover against the United Arab Emirates. As Gary Kirsten posted a World Cup record score of 188 not out, Donald and company restricted the international novices to 36 less than the left-handed opener’s score. Donald took three for 21 off his 10 overs.

The outing with New Zealand was another easy ride. Donald had been coming on first-change in order to be able to control the ball better with the shine off a bit. He was again in fine fettle, taking three for 34 off 10 overs.

Donald missed the England game and was off-colour against Pakistan. The South Africans had one more league match left, against Holland. Donald took two for 21 in 6 overs, but that was the end of his stint in the tournament.

As the World Cup returned to England in 1999, Donald took a wicket each in the easy wins over India and Sri Lanka. He then had the hosts hopping. Still not taking the new ball, he ripped apart the middle order. Donald trapped Graham Thorpe leg-before and soon dismissed Andrew Flintoff for a duck, snapped up by Jonty Rhodes. He then removed Mark Ealham, caught by Daryll Cullinan, to send England reeling at 60 for six. Neil Fairbrother tried to make a match of it but Donald ensured that the unexpected did not happen. He rapped the left-hander on the pads right in front of the stumps. At 99 for nine, chasing a target of 226, it was all over bar the shouting. Donald snatched four for 17 off his 8 overs.

It was a picnic with the Kenyans in the unusual environs of Amstelveen, Holland, and Donald added a couple of wickets to his kitty.

Even as the Zimbabweans shocked South Africa, Donald was his devastating self. He removed top-scorer Neil Johnson (76), and soon had skipper Alistair Campbell plumb leg-before first ball. He also dismissed Guy Whittall to finish with three for 41 off his 10 overs.  

Donald took a back seat in the super-six stage as his team went about qualifying for the semi-final. And what a semi-final it was! Donald, along with Shaun Pollock, played a lead role in restricting Australia to 213. As Pollock took five for 36 off 9.2 overs, Donald finished with four for 32 off his 10 overs. Donald first removed an ominous-looking Ricky Ponting, pouched by Gary Kirsten. Soon after he had Darren Lehmann caught behind. He returned at the end to wind up the innings, scattering the stumps of Paul Reiffel and Damien Fleming for ducks. 

South Africa seemed to be on target at 145 for four but lost wickets in a flurry. Last man Donald found himself in the middle with 16 runs still required for victory off 9 balls and the in-form Lance Klusener at the other end. Donald watched Klusener do all the scoring. Nine runs were required off the last over. Klusener slammed the first two balls from Damien Fleming to the boundary. The scores were level. South Africa now needed one run off 4 deliveries to make it to their first World Cup final.

It was apparent that Donald was jumpy. Steve Waugh called in all his fielders. Klusener pushed the next ball and Donald took off. Our protagonist was sent back and barely avoided being run out. He must have now decided not to run needlessly, for there were still three balls left. Klusener drove the next ball into the covers and took off. But this time Donald stayed put. Both the batsmen found themselves at the bowler’s end. Mark Waugh, however, sent the ball to the same end. Donald sprinted belatedly, minus his bat. At the same time, Fleming quickly rolled the ball to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist. Donald was run out by yards.

It was the first tie in the World Cup. Australia advanced to the final, having beaten South Africa in the previous match. Lady Luck had smiled on Australia in two consecutive matches. Donald stood at the wicket, his face ashen. The campaign was over.

Donald was seeking a glorious swansong in front of his adoring home crowds in 2003. But it went awry. The South African Express had run out of steam.

That is not the true image of Allan Donald. Sure, he could be nearly as comical with the bat as Courtney Walsh, but was equally as great a fast bowler as the West Indian legend. Donald is eighth in the list of wicket-takers in the World Cup with 38 scalps, and the leading South African by a long way. 

Donald was a fine performer in a batsman-oriented version of the game, in which bowlers are meant to stand and serve most of the time. Not many bowlers, particularly pacemen, relish the Limited-overs model, the great Jeff Thomson being a prime example. But Donald always gave his best, and that was one of his finest attributes.

Successor to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson as the fastest white fast bowler, Donald carried the mantle until Brett Lee arrived on the scene. He was perhaps the single-most important factor in South Africa reaching close to the pinnacle in both types of cricket. Steve Waugh had observed after the last super-six match in 1999: “South Africa have come unstuck in the big matches. Their strength is also their weakness. Their fast bowlers stick to a line and length, and bowl with great discipline. They are extremely predictable.” This might not be entirely fair to Donald, but on another plane, it has been said that the South Africans are a clinically efficient unit, lacking flair. That is perhaps why they did not scaled the peaks they should have. Men like AB de Villiers, though, have changed that image radically. 

Nevertheless, the sight of Donald racing in to bowl, bent forward, almost crouching, invariably electrified the crowd. A banner at the Gabba, Brisbane during the 1992 match against Pakistan read: “When you face Donald.....DUCK”. He was menacing on any wicket and a captain’s delight for the hard toil he was always willing to put in. Allan Donald was indeed a dream fast bowler.

Allan Donald’s World Cup bowling and fielding record:

Matches: 25, Wickets: 38, Average: 24.02, Best; 4/17, Economy: 4.17, Catches: 3

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