Cricket / NatWest Trophy: Donald blends speed with science: Warwickshire pin their hopes on the precision of a South African paceman. Michael Austin reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE OLD image of fast bowlers being broad in the beam, breathing fire and brimstone and drinking six pints a night to refill their tanks contrasts with the clean-cut gentility of Allan Donald, everyone's ideal dinner guest.

Before Warwickshire meet Kent in the NatWest Trophy quarter-final today, Donald will be playing a 'mind game' called 'Teach Yourself Aggression' in the Edgbaston dressing-room.

Few criticisms have been levelled at Donald in a burgeoning career, now extending to Test level with South Africa, though at times he has been accused of not being ruthless enough.

All that has changed. 'Some days I feel like sending down a beamer and hitting someone when I feel frustrated by bowling well but not getting a wicket,' he said. 'I resist it, of course, and do what Waqar Younis does by keeping the ball up, aiming for the stumps and using the outswinger.' It produced 80 per cent of his 83 wickets last summer.

Donald, clocked at 85mph, lives with the millstone of being regarded as one of the fastest bowlers, if not the fastest, in the world. It embarrasses, flatters and intrigues Donald because he cannot fathom what has given him the gift of speed. 'I am just lucky to be a natural athlete. I work hard on my fitness, do a lot of stretching exercises but no weight training.

'To face my own bowling in the nets would be a great thrill. The nearest I can get is by batting against Ian Bishop when we play Derbyshire. I reckon that Bishop, Wasim Akram and Waqar are all about the same pace as me.'

Donald's new-found 'devil' involves talking to batsmen, not sledging. 'If they chirp something back at me it winds me up and it's 'game on'. Because of my reputation, the batsman's first reaction is to play back, expecting a short ball but one of full length can be more lethal. I have redeveloped my yorker in the past six months.

'I use it a lot now with the old, swinging ball. The only problem is that the yorker is a 'gamble ball'. If you don't get it right, it turns into a half volley with four runs written all over it.'

Hugh Morris, the Glamorgan and England opener, summed up Donald's threat. 'Some bowlers seem quick when they bang it in short but Donald can do you for pace even when he pitches it up.' Equally few have combined athleticism with sheer speed, among them Jeff Thomson, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose, but any impression that life has been a bed of proteas for the 25-year-old Donald would be misleading.

He is among the precious few willing to give their all seven days a week, whether for Warwickshire, Orange Free State or South Africa. Last winter the buzz of the World Cup and his Test debut was balanced by a debilitating jet set commitment of seven international and 15 domestic flights in three months. They spanned Australia, New Zealand, Africa, the West Indies and England.

The young man from Bloemfontein who spent three years in the South African Defence Force and arrived five summers ago at the Warwickshire indoor nets for a six-month trial has travelled a long way in more than one sense.

Donald, recommended by Dr Ali Bacher, now the managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, to David Brown, then the Warwickshire team manager, resisted challenges from Tony Merrick, the West Indies fast bowler and Tom Moody, the Australian batsman, for the overseas place in the team.

He has now taken 314 first-class wickets, including 51 this season, at about 20 runs apiece for Warwickshire but still feels he owes much to his adopted county and in general, to his grounding in England.

Life can be a strain, or a series of them, for fast bowlers but Donald, lithe, angular and 6ft 2in, has avoided the most severe ones, apart from torn side muscles two years ago. To reduce wear on his left ankle, Donald uses the whole width of the crease in his delivery stride. It prevents an enormous pot-hole developing and has the dual purpose of varying his angle of trajectory, something he learned from Imran Khan.

Donald has an economical 17 pace run-up, sometimes reduced to 10 as much to baffle batsmen as to conserve energy in longer spells. 'They tend to switch off if I don't run in as far,' he said. The ones who resist that temptation include Graham Gooch, the batsman most respected in the world by Donald. David Gower and Viv Richards complete his top three.

Donald, married last year, had previously led a nomadic existence, living in two different flats at the Edgbaston ground as well as another in Birmingham. He admits a liking for Italian food and the odd hamburger but few strokeplayers make him eat humble pie.

With two years of his contract remaining, Donald is settled, well adjusted and looking forward to the renewed excitement of playing for South Africa against the touring Indians in October. He envisages playing well into his thirties, fitness permitting, which is grim news for batsmen everywhere.

(Photograph omitted)