Cricket: Donald eager for mission of destruction

Cricket: Edgbaston's adopted son needs miraculous display to stop England's march to Emirates final
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EDGBASTON WILL be bidding an international farewell to their favourite adopted son today when England play South Africa in the last of the preliminary matches of the Emirates Triangular tournament. But if tears are shed, they will not be coming from England's batsmen, with whom he has one last score to settle.

Allan Donald, soon to be 32, may well be set to return to Warwickshire next season, but unless someone suddenly discovers the fast bowler's equivalent of Viagra, or South Africa play in the World Cup semi-final scheduled here next May, he is unlikely to represent his country at Edgbaston again.

Donald is one of cricket's supreme competitors, a fast bowler whose appetite for the skirmish has never dulled, despite the debilitating pain of a chronically sore heel. Having bowled himself to a standstill in the Test series, one of the main reasons Donald declined the invitation to sit this tournament out was to have one last splurge for his country on the turf that has become a second home.

For once, victory will not be enough - unless South Africa's inferior net run-rate (a figure derived when you subtract the runs per over conceded from the runs per over scored) is improved substantially.

One of the problems with each country only playing the others once before to the final is that once the parameters for victory are known, the game can become a farce. In future, each team must play the others at least twice before the final. According to the boffins who work these things out, Sri Lanka have already qualified for Thursday's final with a positive net run-rate of 0.21. For South Africa to join them at England's expense they will have to win inside a certain amount of overs (a figure that can only be worked out when England's total is known) or, should they bat first, by more than 46 runs. Anything else will mean a return to Lord's for Alec Stewart's men.

Since England's continuing confidence shows no sign of abating, the tasks of Hercules may be simpler, but that will not prevent a jaded South Africa from having a go. If anyone can blast England's batting to shreds, Donald can, and England's batsmen cannot afford to be as careless as they were in their win over Sri Lanka on Sunday, when they lost their last seven wickets for 24 runs.

Sri Lanka's response to a total at least 30 runs below par was even sloppier and the high risk nature of their bold approach was exposed by England's bowlers whose ability to swing the white ball - when they got it in the right parish - proved difficult to dominate.

Of the specialist pace bowlers only Alan Mullally provided the kind of unerring accuracy usually required in one-day matches. Mind you, Peter Martin might have been similarly praised had he not bowled six wides in failing to control the extravagant movement.

The swinging ball is a factor that was not really present in the Texaco series in May, which South Africa won 2-1. As Dominic Cork showed during the Edgbaston and Lord's Test matches, the tourists' batsmen are not comfortable against the moving ball. Having to score quickly will only compound problems and the home side will have to bat and bowl poorly for the required margin of victory to be a reality.

Of course it is not out of the question, and South Africa's bowlers are also likely to swing the ball about. If they do, the first 15 overs, instead of the expected boundary fest, will probably be a cagey affair. If so, or should conditions look bowler-friendly this morning, England may be better off opening the batting with Mike Atherton and dropping Alistair Brown down the order.

Alternatively, should the wicket look slow and low, England could bolster their lower order by picking the all-rounder Matthew Fleming, who was drafted into the squad yesterday.

More probable is that England, despite a fit Angus Fraser, will remain unchanged from the team that beat the World Cup holders, Sri Lanka, at Lord's. These are good times for English cricket and providing there are no horror stories against South Africa today, the rematch is all set for Thursday.

ENGLAND (v South Africa, Emirates Tournament, Edgbaston, today, from): N V Knight, A D Brown, A J Stewart (wkt and capt), G A Hick, N Hussain, A J Hollioake, R D B Croft, I D Austin, P J Martin, D Gough, A D Mullally, A R C Fraser, M V Fleming, M A Atherton, A F Giles.

SOUTH AFRICA (from): G Kirsten, M Rindel, J H Kallis, D J Cullinan, P M Symcox, WJ Cronje (capt), JN Rhodes, SM Pollock, M A Boucher (wkt), S Elworthy, A A Donald, B M McMillan.

Umpires: J Holder (WI) and G Sharp (Eng).

TV umpire: A A Jones (Eng).