Mind is all that matters for Donald

The scars of 1999 and the death of a friend will spur the hosts' icon

There's a huge billboard that immediately catches the eye as you drive in to Johannesburg. The stark two-worded message might confirm visitors' worst fears that they have arrived in the new Wild West, but South African sport has never been known for its subtle approach. "Die Aussies," the advert screams. On closer inspection, in much smaller print, comes the explanation. "Available in both English and Afrikaans."

It's a radio station drumming up the World Cup, the word "die" (pronounced "dee") meaning "the" in Afrikaans, one of the country's 11 official languages. An example of the in-your-face manner South Africa plays sport.

Allan Donald, nicknamed "White Lightning" but whose days of sending down unplayable thunderbolts are seemingly behind him, epitomises that attitude.

"We are doing this for Hansie Cronje. We are dedicating this World Cup to Hansie, unash-amedly so," Donald repeated last week in a comment that brought a swift rebuke from the president of the United Cricket Board, Percy Sonn. "We don't want players winning for individuals, we want them to do it for all the people of South Africa," came the official's reply.

Yet the shadow of Cronje looms large over a side who the country genuinely expect to win the World Cup. "It's our job to get them here, it's yours to send them back," is another advertising billboard, this time that of the official carrier of the competition, South African Airways. Alongside the text is the face of Shaun Pollock, the man who followed Cronje as captain. No pressure then.

Donald, a 36-year-old veteran of 161 one-day internationals (271 wickets), in his fourth World Cup and held together by more Elastoplast than you will find in a hospital ward, will be the man Pollock turns to when the going gets tough. Once a tearaway quick, who even on the wrong side of 30 reduced England to 2 for 4 on a Wanderers greentop, the Free State and Warwickshire icon has mellowed. But his desire remains.

"We will make the [South African] public proud of us. We have a very good side this time and we genuinely feel we can go all the way," Donald says. "In 1999 we had the best team in the competition, by a mile. Then, in the semi-finals, it all went wrong..." his voice trailing away.

The moment "it all went wrong" is burnt into the memory of every South African and only World Cup victory on home soil will dull the senses, while never erasing it. Sport is taken seriously here, and that radio advertising billboard is a reminder that Australia remain the eternal enemy.

Donald, famously, was at the crease when he and Lance Klusener attempted a single that would beat Australia and ensure passage into the final. Donald, by general consensus, was the one who cracked, dropping his bat and making the 22 yards to the other end of the pitch seem like a trek across the Outback. Only on this occasion he was not back.

"I didn't hear the call," Donald has consistently said on reflection. Perhaps, like so many secrets that went with his close friend Cronje the moment his plane crashed into a mountain range last year, we will never know what went on in the middle on the afternoon of 17 June 1999 at Edgbaston.

Given the form and calibre of player available for Pollock to call on, and notwithstanding the fact that there are many who feel the five players of colour in the squad of 15 is bowing to affirmative action pressures, it is of little surprise that South Africa are second favourites – behind those Aussies, of course – in the official betting.

Winning is supposed to become a habit, but Donald, a bit more sedate in his run-up to the crease but with an old head on over-worked shoulders, puts an interesting spin on the theory. "In 1999 we quickly built our momentum. There were some soft touches in the early part of the competition and we held a number of team meetings to decide whether we should rest some players or play our best team throughout. We chose the latter. But what that does is make you think too much." Which has been damaging to countless talents around the globe.

"You win six or so matches in a row and, privately, you start to wonder. The law of averages dictates that you are going to lose at some stage. When is that defeat going to come? it would be better early in the tournament than later, but when you go through unbeaten..."

Pollock's team have nothing to fear from the opposition. Not even "die Australians". But the evidence of that 1999 semi-final is compelling: do South Africa have what it takes to succeed? "Yes... we do," Donald offers. "There's no question that the three inches here [digit and thumb pressed against his forehead] will determine the world champions."

To this end South Africa embarked on a three-day camp in the Drakensburg mountains last week in a team-building exercise. The tasks were similar to those on television's Survivor series. All with the intention of ensuring the minds of the players don't go soft under the harsh African sun.

Donald, dropped off miles away from base camp, was asked to find his way back, but couldn't. Should his compass let him down in the World Cup, South Africa will surely again lose theirs. For supporters of the team, and country, the thought is too ghastly to contemplate.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference