Donald key to the recovery missions

ICC Knockout Trophy: The great bowler returns as England and South Africa both have much to prove

The spectre of Cronjegate still taints South Africa, England's next opponents in the quarter-final of the ICC Knockout on Tuesday. Like the red Nairobi dust, the fall-out has pervaded every nook and cranny to the point where the new captain, Shaun Pollock, has been asked about little else since taking over the reins last April.

The spectre of Cronjegate still taints South Africa, England's next opponents in the quarter-final of the ICC Knockout on Tuesday. Like the red Nairobi dust, the fall-out has pervaded every nook and cranny to the point where the new captain, Shaun Pollock, has been asked about little else since taking over the reins last April.

"It would be nice to talk about the cricket once in a while," Pollock said. "There was obviously going to be a negative impact on South African fans, but we've got to give them a reason to support us again, and the best way we can do that is to build that from the field. We've all signed a declaration that none of us have been involved in match-fixing, or will be involved in the future, so there is no hiding from the consequences from now on."

Catharsis cannot be prescribed in doses and there is no given time-frame for recovery. Even two one-day series against Australia (the first won 2-1, the second drawn 1-1 with the deciding match tied) have not entirely removed the scars, at least not for the public.

A bevy of newish faces, such as Boeta Dippenaar, Neil McKenzie and Andrew Hall, may help that process, but so will some old ones like Allan Donald, now restored to the side after announcing his retirement from one-day cricket just before the infamous Centurion Test match against England last winter.

It has been suggested in some quarters that Hansie Cronje's nefarious activities were the reason Donald hung up his one-day boots in the first place. So far, the fast bowler has remained coy on the matter.

According to Pollock, the official line is that Donald wanted to commit himself to Warwickshire, only deciding to return to international one-day competition after long talks with his wife. What probably forced the fast bowler's hand, however, are the new contracts introduced by the United Cricket Board of South Africa, which stipulate that players have to be available for both Test and one-day cricket.

Daryll Cullinan, another ret-iree from the one-day scene at the same time as Donald (coincidence or Cronje?), is also available again. Come January, so will be Herschelle Gibbs, one of those tainted by the affair. Despite the reconvening of the King Commission in Cape Town, Gibbs has already been allowed to play for his province.

Donald's return is bad news for England. Not only does he know their batsmen well, the pace and bounce at the Gymkhana Club, which are predicted to increase, should make him an extremely awkward proposition.

With their leading bowler back, South Africa are the consummate one-day side, second only to an on-form Australia. Like England, they do not have a spinner of class, but their batsmen at least know how to play them in this form of the game, knocking them around for four to five runs an over without undue risks.

That said, though, there is a swagger to this England team that is based on collective belief rather than bluff, a testament to the measured progress made under Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher. And yet despite this the feeling remains that a quantum leap will be needed if Pollock's men are to be knocked out on Tuesday.

It is not impossible, and South Africa's bye in the first round could make them vulnerable if England can solve their fifth-bowler problem. Against Bangladesh, the combination of Graeme Hick and Mark Alleyne conceded 61 runs from 10 overs, 13 runs more than the next most expensive bowler, Mark Ealham.

Unless that is successfully addressed, and to be frank the options boil down to playing the inexperienced Matthew Hoggard or the newly-arrived Paul Grayson, a weakness remains. In fact, if Lance Klusener gets going, the low-flying aircraft that have been using this part of Nairobi to practise their moves for Tuesday's Uhuru Day celebrations could be in danger.

Similarly, England cannot afford to spurn chances in the way that they did against Bangladesh, where six catches were spilled. None of them was easy, but taking the tough ones is often all that separates the leaders from the also-rans in the one-day game, something Gloucestershire's opponents over the last two seasons can vouch for.

With the captain at last getting a big score and Alec Stewart continuing his sublime form of the summer, the portents for a close contest are good. South Africa are a resilient side whose discipline is almost monastic, but they remain vulnerable to the brilliant cameo - it is just a question of which England player might raise his game to provide it.

On Friday, some of the team went to Daphne Sheldrick's animal orphanage near the Ngong Hills, where they learned that it can take three years to assimilate youngrhinos back into the wild. Under Hussain, England have been almost as cautious. Perhaps now, with South Africa an unavoidable obstacle, it is time for them to take their own walk on the wild side.

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