The first Protea to capture 300 test wickets, Allan Donald was for some time the most successful Test bowler in South African cricketing history, and ranks among the best in the history of the game.
His sensational strike rate says it all: he picked up a est wicket in just under every 47 balls, or every eight overs he delivered. By the time he announced his retirement from the Test arena in early 2002, he had taken 330 wickets at an average of 22.25 runs per wicket.
Donald captured five wickets in an innings on 20 occasions and took 10 or more on three occasions. Known affectionately as “White Lightning”, he was feared and respected by batsmen the world over, and was one of the main reasons why South Africa’s return to international cricket was so successful.
South Africa’s return from isolation began with the country’s first official one-day international, against India in November 1991. Donald made a stunning debut before more than 90 000 Indians at Eden Gardens, claiming 5 for 29 in an exhibition of fast bowling that made the rest of the world sit up and take notice. His international test career began against the West Indies five months later.
Early in his career, he captured 12 for 139 against India in Port Elizabeth in December 1992 to help the Proteas to victory on a pitch that was not recognised as conducive to fast bowling. He later tallied 11 wickets in a one-off test against Zimbabwe in October 1995, knocking over eight wickets in the Zimbabwean second innings as South Africa again claimed victory.
Donald didn’t always enjoy the same success in limited overs cricket, and was sometimes left out of the South African one-day team. He was controversially dropped from the team at the quarterfinal stage of the 1996 World Cup. South Africa, who had easily beaten all opposition up to that point, were defeated by the West Indies and exited the competition.
In the latter part of his career, Donald chose to shorten his run up. While this cost him some speed, it gave him greater control, and the loss of pace did little to curb his effectiveness. In fact, if anything, it helped him become a better and more effective bowler. The change probably also prolonged his career.
Besides appearing for South Africa, Donald was also an extremely successful performer on the English county circuit, spearheading Warwickshire’s bowling attack during a period in which they dominated the English game under former Protea coach, Bob Woolmer. In fact, Donald played more cricket for Warwickshire than for his South African province, Free State, and he is married to an English woman, Tina, from Birmingham.
After missing the 2000 limited-overs Super Challenge Series against Australia, the tour of Sri Lanka, the Singapore Challenge and the ICC Knockout Tournament, and serving out his contract with Warwickshire, Donald once again set his sights on playing for his country. That was excellent news for South African cricket, especially in a year that had been a difficult one with the match-fixing scandal involving three Proteas, including former captain Hansie Cronje. Donald’s return once again sharpened the South African bowling attack, which in his absence had lacked a cutting edge.
But charging in and bowling consistently in excess of 140 kilometres an hour took its toll on Donald’s body, and he pulled up injured in his final Test, against the Australians at the Wanderers in February 2002.
Donald missed the entire one-day series against Australia because of that injury and returned to the South African team in August only at the Morocco Cup tournament that also featured Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It was a triumphant return as, playing on wickets that offered little help to seamers, he finished at the top of the bowling averages in the competition, and also captured the second most wickets. His performances included a man of the match winning 4 for 43 against Pakistan in a crucial contest that South Africa won by just eight runs.
Definitely back in favour after his performances in Morocco, Donald played in all three ODIs against Bangladesh in South Africa, and did a decent job as the Proteas crushed their opponents easily.
In the following series against Sri Lanka, a good one-day team, Donald performed superbly, capturing 10 wickets in the five-match series, second by just one wicket to Shaun Pollock. His average was a highly impressive 18.60.
He also showed that although he might have lost some speed, he had certainly learnt many lessons along the path of his cricket career and could still remove the opposition’s top batsmen. In fact, eight of his 10 victims were specialist top-order batsmen. In the series-clinching victory in the fourth ODI in Kimberley Donald was exceptional, capturing 3 for 18 in his 10 overs.
In South Africa’s final action before the World Cup Donald played in four of the five one-dayers against Pakistan. Again he enjoyed success against top-order batsmen and in two of his four outings he succeeded in stifling the Pakistani challenge with economic, wicket-taking spells.
Unfortunately for “White Lightning” he struggled in the World Cup, failing to find his rhythm, something that was so pivotal to his success. He came in for severe criticism from the press and the much longed for winning swansong didn’t materialise as South Africa was eliminated without reaching the Super Six stage of the tournament.
It was an ending unbefitting a great and passionate servant of South African cricket. It brought to an end the career of one of the greatest fast bowlers of his era, a man who could have achieved untold success had his international career not started at the relatively advanced age of 24.
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