September 2, 2003

'South Africa will win 3-1'

Allan Donald might no longer be an active Test cricketer, but he will always be a passionate South African. So there is every reason to believe that his sentiments on comments made by Michael Vaughan will be prominent in the minds of Graeme Smith's team when they take the field at The Oval on Thursday in a bid to become the first South African team to win a series in England since 1965.

"After Headingley Vaughan said South Africa didn't win the Test match, but that England lost it - that's a bold thing for someone who's just been completely outplayed to say," Donald told Wisden CricInfo.

South Africa won by 191 runs, a result that put them 2-1 up with one to play. Donald feels England were in for another beating in the fifth Test, not least because of the positive momentum South Africa created in Leeds. "It wasn't so much that South Africa won as how they won," he said. "They were 21 for 4 and they never laid down and died.

"There's a new level of intensity in the side, and a serious amount of pride and honour. I'm not saying it wasn't there when I played, but it's just so strong at the moment. So, and this may be a bold statement of my own, I think South Africa will win the series 3-1."

Much of the hand-wringing over England's plight in this series has centred on the hardy perennial of the weak state of county cricket. However, Donald, who played for Warwickshire and (briefly) Worcestershire in a county career that started back in 1987, believes the root of the problem has more to do with the amount of cricket played in England than its standard. "They play too much cricket, and it becomes difficult to stay hungry," he said. "As a county cricketer you could play 17 four-day games and who knows how many one-day games in a season."

This summer Donald has swapped the new ball for the commentator's microphone in England. His change of role feels, at this stage, like a too-new pair of boot: "Commentary is quite a lonely job, and very different to being a player," he said. "You don't get any meal vouchers, for one thing!

"It's taking some getting used to, because I've never been able to sit in the change-room and watch the game on television. I'd much rather be involved on the field. I realise I have to watch what I say, because some players hate being criticised, but I've always been a person who says what he sees."

Donald will soon be back on the other side of the boundary back in South Africa as Free State's new captain, a prospect he is looking forward to despite his lack of leadership experience. "I captained a few teams at school," he said, "and I captained Free State in a limited overs game a few years ago - and we won by nine wickets.

"I've got plenty to learn, and perhaps the most important thing will be the skill of getting the best out of the players. But I think I've got a good two years left and I intend to win a trophy."

And the days of Donald and his strong, accurate arm patrolling the boundary would seem to be over for the soon-to-be skipper: "No more fine leg or third man - it's the inner ring for me."