March 23, 2011

'You've got to have skills but you also need attitude'

Allan Donald, New Zealand's new bowling coach, is on a mission to get his charges thinking right before their big game against his old team

Though he retired eight years ago, Allan Donald still thinks like the aggressive fast bowler he was. There is no let up in his preparation, his attitude, his words. The man who made an art of the deployment of "white-line fever" is now engaged in instilling some of that competitive ferocity in New Zealand's pace bowlers. In this interview, Donald talks about the areas the bowlers under his charge need to work on, and why he won't be conflicted about their encounter against his old team in two days' time.

Where do you think New Zealand can hurt South Africa?
The emphasis has been to increase the intensity with the new ball. That has been crucial to us. Since the Pakistan game we have responded well with the new ball. It is a good thing to bowl with the new ball these days if you have got quality guys who can swing the ball upfront. And that is where Kyle Mills and Tim Southee have been excellent. The new ball has worked for us. We need to put South Africa under pressure early. That is the key. We could also be looking at opening with a spinner. That is another option.

Did you watch Brett Lee against Pakistan? Would you say that was a perfect modern one-day bowling exhibition?
Yes, Lee was magnificent. Lee and Dale Steyn never stop coming. They never back off on their pace. Both have the licence to do what they do the best. Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith leave it to them to set their fields. Those guys normally go on gut feel, and that is what makes them very special bowlers.

Don't the lengths they bowl contribute to that as well?
Lee and Steyn are pretty much the same in that they bowl the fuller lengths. But Dale is able to hold that length a little bit longer, and that for me takes batsmen's feet away immediately. Not only do they stay at 148-150kph, it is their length that makes it really uncomfortable - you cannot really get forward to it or get back to it. You're always sort of stuck to the crease.

They are skiddy as well. If there is any difference, Dale tends to hold that length longer. Brett tends to go at times two lengths almost, but when he does get up there he does not make many mistakes. He does not bowl too full and is able to come back into the [right] length quicker.

What can someone like Tim Southee learn from them?
They are different bowlers. Southee too can get up to 140, as we saw against Pakistan. He has always been around 137-138kph.

He had flatlined a little bit - not really kicked on after making his debut. I said to him, "Look, I want you to lead this attack. I want you to take on a massive responsibility." What he did against Pakistan in New Zealand showed he has a bit of white-line fever about him. He is not 150, but he has got some attitude, which I like.

That is what I am trying to change within this attack - they are not people who will blow you away, but I'm trying desperately to change their attitude, and the way they think about the art of fast bowling. You have got your skills, control, discipline but it has got to come with an attitude that is aggressive. That means going in with aggressive lengths and a demeanour like Lee and Steyn have - the X factor.

"Sometimes bowlers do not realise how much time they have to actually take a step back and say, 'Hold on a second, I need to refocus.'"

What is your assessment of New Zealand's bowling overall?
When I first got there I learned that nothing about the art of reverse-swing was talked about. It was talked about but it was not really tried a lot.

The thing that is important to me is the training ground. The intensity there for me is massive. That is the way I grew up. What we do right there we are going to do right in the middle. I know it sounds fairly simple and straightforward and almost schoolboyish, but the coaches I grew under expected nothing less than that. Hansie Cronje, when he walked on to the field, he knew exactly what he would get from us because we did it right in the training ground. I hope Dan [Daniel Vettori] will support me on that because for me it is laying down the marker every time we go into net practice - knowing that every time those guys walk away from it they know they are 110 % prepared, they know they are on the money. You need to practise in great detail, like bowling in the batting Powerplay, reverse-swing and death bowling.

That is part of the attitude and part of the culture I want to change with these bowlers. Jacob Oram has been fantastic. He has worked harder, got better, and can do anything at the moment. We have improved a heck of a lot in a short time. Standards have been put in place and we are working doubly as hard as before.

Can you give us an example of that this tournament?
Let us take the batting Powerplay. In those five overs we need to not become predictable. For that we have to bowl over and around the wicket and be able to swing both ways and set the field accordingly. Early in the World Cup we changed our fields too many times and got exposed. Now we set a field and stick to that.

If you look at the stats in Powerplays, we have done relatively okay. We have not been exposed to big damage, apart from the odd over. So it is important that we don't become predictable.

It is important you should be able to set a field and try and execute it and bowl to the field. For example, being brave enough to bowl full, inswinging yorkers to a leg-side field.

In terms of bowling at the death we can still do a lot better.

Is this turning out to be a bowler's World Cup? Some pundits suggest this World Cup will be won by teams who have one express bowler and one quality spinner.
This World Cup has been fascinating for me because a batsman has to think about batting better on wickets that turn a bit and are slow. The seamers have bowled magnificently.

That is where the challenge is for bowling coaches. They need to have a vision, because Twenty20 cricket makes everything so much more difficult. Sometimes bowlers do not realise how much time they have to actually take a step back and say, "Hold on a second, I need to refocus." Once you turn back and run in, you need to know where this is going and you have got to back what you are doing.

Pace is a massive asset in this World Cup. If you have real pace - that is, guys who can bowl up to 150kph or more.

What is the main challenge for you?
It is now like the first game of the World Cup - a straight knockout. For me the challenge is to make the guys believe, and keep making them believe, how good they really are. And to have no doubts in their minds of taking on a team like South Africa. It is positive talk all the way. Having played in four World Cups I know that if one of my team-mates is doubting himself or the team's ability then he is letting the team down. So for me this week, before Friday, I have got to make these guys believe that they can do it - with the new ball, in the Powerplays, and at the death. It has to be a massive positive team effort. New Zealand have been in that many semi-finals and have bombed out when maybe, maybe, they did not quite believe in themselves.

Being a South African, I know if they detect that there is too much respect or you are not mentally strong enough, they trample all over you. South Africa are a quality, quality team. They look very ominous. This could be their time and should be their time. I'm not supporting them. But I am just thinking that is they way they are thinking in their camp right now.

We have not yet played in Bangladesh this tournament. We have got to assess the pitch in Mirpur, which is apparently quite slow, as we saw during the Bangladesh-South Africa game. We have got to adapt to the conditions in the way it suits our pace attack. We've just got to find a way and stay patient. That is going to be key.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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