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