South Africa in Australia 2012-13 October 30, 2012

Pacy Australian pitches enthuse Donald


Allan Donald bowled in Australia during the age of Shane Warne. Thus, Test match wickets were straw-coloured and prone to wearing, fast bowlers treasured the few overs of conventional assistance offered by the new ball, and spinners twirled away less in hope than expectation.

More than a decade since he last visited Australia as a player, Donald has returned as South Africa's bowling coach to find that Australian Test pitches now offer bounce, pace and lateral movement in more generous quantities. Last summer, Australia's pacemen seldom resorted to searching for reverse swing because the traditional kind was more freely available, and pursued a fuller length to telling effect against India.

Mentoring a trio of fast men in Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander that he rates the best in South Africa's history, Donald chuckled at the surfaces they may get the chance to bowl on. Memories of Donald's heroic spells on far less helpful surfaces in Melbourne and Sydney in 1997-98 remain vivid for all those who saw them, and he can be forgiven for wishing he had been granted the chance to bowl on the sort of lively Gabba pitch expected to be unveiled next week.

"I've been hearing it's going to be fairly green in Brisbane. I've never played in Australia when the wickets were green, maybe that policy's changed a little bit," Donald said. "I know watching Australia against New Zealand the one factor that stands out at the Gabba is the bounce and carry. For me that's the only thing as a quick bowler that keeps you interested. Gone are the days when it's nice and flat and your spinners come into it, but we'll see.

"It looks like the wickets have got a bit bouncier than they used to be. The Gabba's a bit different, the SCG's usually a really good wicket to bat on, for a three-day game we don't know what to expect. But I think length is crucial. When you go to the Gabba, watching Australia play against New Zealand, the length is a little fuller than normal, so you haven't got too much time to adapt, but once the guys are up there I'm sure they'll adapt as quickly as possible."

Adaptation is the strong suit of a bowling attack that has in its various incarnations kept South Africa unbeaten away from home for more than six years. The most recent addition to the ensemble, Philander, has shown commendable maturity and perseverance in his methods, moving the ball a little either way at sharp enough pace to beat the best batsmen.

"It is just the telling lengths he bowls consistently, he never goes away, he locks you away as a batsman, you almost feel you've got to play at every delivery," Donald said. "If there's anything in the wicket that offers him a bit, then he becomes even more of a handful. Since 2007 when he was left out of the South African side he's gone away and learned his game, he's really become a tremendous bowler, and it's good for us to have him in the side.

"He's really motivated for this tour - this is as big as it gets."

The visit to Australia comes with the risk of losing the No.1 ranking should South Africa be defeated, but Donald's faith in his bowlers is clear. Despite having played alongside Shaun Pollock in one of the game's most feared pace duos in earlier years, Donald has had little hesitation labelling the current group the best he has seen.

"I would have to say that yes [this is the best South African attack], and I'm not just saying that, because I was part of an attack with Shaun Pollock and myself and a few others. I say this humbly and respectfully, I think this is as good as it gets," he said. "They've been bowling together for quite some time now, which is nice, so momentum's been built over the last couple of years, consistency in selection, and it's nice to have a group of guys that know what they're about. But still, the produce factor is always the key, and this is as big as it comes coming to Australia."

South African confidence has been underlined by their decision to choose only four pacemen on tour, when Australia are likely to have as many as five fast bowlers on hand at each Test. On the topic of whether there was any risk inherent in their strategy, Donald was unmoved.

"I don't think so," he said. "Rory's [Kleinveldt] been added to the squad, Rory deserves his place, he's nice and hard, he bowls 140 kph plus, so he's good back-up for anyone who's injured."

Given the sort of surface they should no see at the Gabba, Donald's feeling of assurance may be wisely placed.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on November 1, 2012, 3:13 GMT

    @Chris_P on (October 31 2012, 17:19 PM GMT) - point taken. I know when Donald was playing he often wished for Tests to be played at the WACA & Gabba & often pondered why they weren't played there. Apart from the Ashes, & when the WIndies were in full pomp, I think the Gabba has been ripped off by not having the Saffas or Indians (once in 20yrs) play here. Every year I used to drive 4 hours to the Gabba (about 20 yrs ago) & sleep in the back of my old (dearly departed) Gemini (never a great nights sleep). Basically use to spend most of the day in the bar under the Lions clubhouse. I think the Gabba now is a great viewing ground, but I find the Fun Police sort of spoil it now.

  • Peter on October 31, 2012, 17:19 GMT

    @Meety. re: The Gabba. As you know I been going to the Gabba tests for a long time. I am not sure CA avoided the Gabba for the Boks or not as the Gabba has traditionally been played in November or the first test of the season whereas the biggest crowds pullers are the MCG/SCG double for boxing day/New Year. Historicially, the lesser crowd pullers have toured for the first 3 tests (when 2 teams tour). So for the 3 tests (why only 3???) against the Boks, we have nearly always used the SCG/MCG & Adelaide trio, only Perth was altered last tour. (Maybe we avoided Perth before?). No doubt, 2 of the grounds to be served up will suit the Boks down to a tee.

  • Cricket on October 31, 2012, 12:53 GMT

    'Australia's pacemen seldom resorted to searching for reverse swing because the traditional kind was more freely available, and pursued a fuller length to telling effect against India'. The reason why they didn't have have to resort to reverse swing was because none the innings lasted long enough for the ball to reverse swing. Bouncy pacy pitches with lateral movement is what test matc cricket is all about. Take note in the subcontinent.

  • Blessing on October 31, 2012, 11:38 GMT

    Lets see mmmmhhh whos career will Smith % Co. slay this time around????..Michael Hussey mmmhhh...or maybe Ponting. Would be sad if it is the later bcoz he is one of my favourite batsmen of all time. Should be an interesting series...though i still foresee a comprehensive 2-0 to SA

  • Mark on October 31, 2012, 11:09 GMT

    This is going to be a hard fought series. Neither side will back down or be intimidated so we can look forward to some good, hard cricket. Neither side can be counted out until the last run or wicket falls....this is epic cricket at it's best. The rivalry between the teams is legendary and it is only of late that SA have a good chance of winning in Oz (as they did before) Morkel is the weak link...if he is on song, he is brilliant...when he is off, he is terrible and will be torn to shreds. AB must not keep either. SA are the number one side but the Oz teams are scrappers and also play very good cricket. These two are probably the real best two in cricket..

  • Andrew on October 31, 2012, 6:21 GMT

    Steyn, Morkel, Philander ... if Pollock, Donald, Ntini were bowling on the current Australian pitches ... they would be the best ... I would still rate Donald better than Steyn ... He bowled well in Australia with pitches made for Warne's spin. I would like to see Punter and his clan get runs off these bowlers and show the world that Australia are going through a transformation phase where they will be the speed Kings of the world ... Starc ... Hilfenhaus ... Cummins ... Siddle ... but then let the ball do the talking ... 2-1 Australia ...

  • Deepak on October 31, 2012, 5:57 GMT

    I believe Steyn will be the difference between teams.I already told in WC Steyn is as good as Balaji and if Balaji is not injured he would have a much better bowler than Steyn.In 20-20 WC Balaji proved that.Now its upto Steyn to prove he is also good.SO he will deliver or due to pressure he will fail again.If Steyn Proves as good as Balaji then SAF will win this series else there is no way to stop the Aussise.

  • Andrew on October 31, 2012, 5:29 GMT

    @Biggus on (October 31 2012, 03:20 AM GMT) - re: Red&WhiteArmy - ironic given Finn lasted 4 overs on his tour of India & couldn't finish the last Ashes. Tremlett has been injured, Broad couldn't finish the last Ashes & pulled out of a tour of India & Swanny has a busted elbow! Glass Houses? As for your "new" definition of a Green Top - classic! You're on fire!

  • Andrew on October 31, 2012, 5:23 GMT

    @Chris_P on (October 30 2012, 17:34 PM GMT) - well said, I would imagine that '69 Saffa line up would have to be the greatest. Pollock/Ntini/Donald as a comb have greater credentials, although I think Donald was coming to the end of his career when Ntini came along. So a lot depends on whether Phillander continues on, because I would say that Morkel is inferior to Ntini, Donald & Steyn a neck & neck & so its sort of down to Phillander v Pollock with the latter having the wickets on the Board over time. As for the 69/70 side - they just didn't play enuff games to really qualify. Interestingly - in looking up Pollocks record I came across a Saffer - Partridge, wasted life that was. @ sifter132 on (October 30 2012, 21:20 PM GMT) - I agree 100%! I dunno if WIndies sides of the late 90s would say that they weren't pace friendly (thinking of McGraths hat-trick at the WACA). Ambrose certainly always looked menacing! I think Oz deliberately avoided hosting the Saffas at the Gabba though!

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2012, 5:20 GMT

    Turn it up Donald. Its the same SAfrican bowling attack that they had at home this time last year and they were given greentops and they still couldnt win the series against us.

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