Donald still in Lara's shadow

Warwickshire's fast bowler is in fiery form - and embarrassing his employers into the bargain. Jon Culley reports
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As Allan Donald set about demolishing Northamptonshire's ambitions at Edgbaston this week, the thought occurred that every step Warwickshire take towards the seizing of another batch of silverware this summer is likely to be accompanied by a growing sense of unease.

Without Brian Lara's extravagant haul of rapidly gathered runs to tip the odds in their favour, last year's treble-winners have, more than ever, needed their bowlers to do their stuff, especially Donald. They have not been let down; indeed, by the time the cups are handed round they may well owe the South African a considerable debt.

And yet, this happy prospect is at the same time an uncomfortable one for the Warwickshire committee. Six months ago, pressed by Lara's representatives, they decided they would ditch Donald as their overseas player at the end of this season, handing the record-breaking West Indian a three-year contract, commencing in 1996.

Can it be said they were wrong to do so? The wise-after-the-event faction are tut-tutting loudly now but the Edgbaston hierarchy could not have known, in February, that the Lara they hope to welcome back next year would look so different in July. The man who made nine first-class centuries under his Warwickshire hat last summer - among them, of course, his record- breaking 501 - has yet to make one during the West Indies tour. At Canterbury the other day he even bagged the dreaded pair - just as Donald, in Cardiff, was bowling Warwickshire to a two-day win.

To Warwickshire's discomfort, however, this is the reality. While Lara struggles, Donald is reaching his peak, with approaching 50 first-class wickets to his name and, assuming there are no injuries around the corner, a good few more to come as the champions set about retaining their crown.

But if the county have mixed feelings, so too does Donald.

In the hope of keeping him out of a rival county's clutches, it is likely that Warwickshire will offer Donald the chance to stay at Edgbaston in a coaching role, perhaps combining it with league cricket at weekends.

On one level such a mix would have some appeal. But, not yet 29 and unquestionably one of the finest fast bowlers in the world, he accepts that to be on the wrong side of the boundary in the prime of his career would be seen as a considerable waste of his talents. Much as he feels settled in Birmingham, with an English-born wife and young child, he has not ruled out the possibility of playing first-class cricket elsewhere. "I know a lot of people have said that I would be wasted not playing and that to sit on the sidelines watching the other guys play would not be me," he said.

"I probably would like to keep on playing. I don't feel I've ever really burned out and I get bored very easily sitting and watching.

"But things are pretty much undecided so far and I cannot really comment much. Whether I'm going to be here next season I can't really say but the club has told me they will be coming up with a firm offer pretty soon.

"If I come back, I would want to work with the younger bowlers and be involved in the fitness situation, to help with getting the guys fit and keeping them on the park.

"Then I would probably play either in the Lancashire League or Birmingham League on Saturday to keep myself in form."

South Africa's readmission to the international fold has naturally increased Donald's workload and he concedes that a season out of county cricket might have benefits. By the start of the 1996 season, he will have played in a home series against England and in the World Cup.

He denies, however, that he is under pressure to withdraw from county cricket.

"My main goal is to play for South Africa for as long as I can and my commitment to South Africa is becoming a lot more important," he said.

"It is great to play for your country. That is one thing I have waited a very long time to do and perhaps in the long term it might be better for my international career if I put my feet up. I've spoken to Dr [Ali] Bacher and to Bob Woolmer, the coach, and they would pretty much want me to have a rest.

"But I've already told them that if it is my decision to play then I will play and they've gone with that.

"I feel fine at the moment. Whenever Dermot [Reeve, the Warwickshire captain] has asked me to bowl, I've bowled, and I've tended to bowl longer spells than before. Whereas I used to open with five, if I'm taking wickets I'm having to end up with seven or eight-over spells.

"This can be a bit tiring, but fortunately for me we have bowled so well and bowled people out so quickly, for very low scores, it has taken some of the workload off. I would probably like to continue playing but if it comes to taking a rest, then I'll do it. It all hinges on the club's decision."