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South Africa in England: Great Performances

When White Lightning hit Iron Mike

For Allan Donald, the draw at Old Trafford in 1998 felt like a gut-wrenching loss

Firdose Moonda

June 26, 2012

Comments: 37 | Text size: A | A

Mike Atherton is hit on the shoulder by a short ball from Allan Donald, England v South Africa, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 4th day, July 5, 1999
Mike Atherton taking a blow to his shoulder from Allan Donald © PA Photos
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Allan Donald remembers the sight of his feet on July 6, 1998. "They looked like World War Two," he said. He also remembers the noise from the opposition camp. "That England change room celebrated like they had won the match, and on our side it was like we had lost."

But there was no victor that day. England had pulled off a remarkable Houdini act to save a match that had swung towards a South African triumph with each of the six wickets Donald claimed. Having followed on, England needed 369 runs to make South Africa bat again. The match ended, heartbreakingly for South Africa, with England at 369 for 9. England went on to win the series 2-1.

Donald remembers it as the "series of my career". He was the leading wicket-taker by some distance - with 33 at 19.78, nine more than the second-highest, Angus Fraser. Out of his four five-wicket hauls in the five Tests, Donald picked the 6 for 88 in this match at Old Trafford as his favourite.

"What I learnt about myself as a bowler and as a leader of the attack for that amount of time was immense," Donald said. "We were just in the field for so long and we bowled so many overs that it really tested everything about our attack. To make it worse, Lance [Klusener] and Jacques [Kallis] were injured, so it was basically me and Makhaya [Ntini] as the seamers at the end. Even Hansie [Cronje] came on to bowl a bit to give us a break."

As a full-strength attack in the first innings, South Africa had dealt with England swiftly and severely. But then Klusener's ankle problems, which caused him to drop pace in later years, began, and Kallis' injured hamstring caused him fade out in the last hour of play on the final day. Despite the injury, Kallis bowled close to 50 overs in the two innings.

Donald bowled 53 of the 253.1 overs South Africa sent down over the better part of three days, an exercise that stretched him to the limit.

"The most important thing was patience, because they kept us at bay for so long," Donald said. "They" primarily being Michael Atherton, who defied Donald for over six hours for 89 runs, and Alec Stewart, whose 164 took seven hours. Their third-wicket stand of 226, in hindsight, almost took the match away, Donald said.

"That is what I remember most from that match and the series as a whole. The battle with Athers - that was just a great contest. There were never any words but you could feel it was there.

"At the end of the day's play he was the first person in our change room with a beer. People say he is grumpy, and he is and he knows it too, but we get on very well. We're actually going to do a lunch together in London this year as part of a celebration."

On July 16, ten days after the 14th anniversary of the last day of that Old Trafford Test, Donald and Atherton will appear together to celebrate the Wisden Almanack's 150th year of publication. "I'm sure we'll talk about that match and Trent Bridge and the many battles we had against each other," Donald said.

But in Manchester that day it was Kallis who removed Atherton and gave South Africa the opening they needed. Then Donald's persistent use of the short ball paid off when Stewart was caught at deep backward square, and the wickets began to tumble. "There's always an element of aggression for me but in that innings I had to also do a lot of waiting," Donald said. "I knew that if I just kept putting the ball in the right areas, kept thinking about what to do, we could possibly win the match."


Allan Donald celebrates after Gary Kirsten takes a catch to dismiss Darren Gough, England v South Africa, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 5th day, July 6, 1999
Wicket No. 9: Donald gets Darren Gough © Getty Images
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The desire to succeed in England spurred him on. "I've just always wanted to do well against England in England - don't ask me why. I don't know if it's because I played county cricket there or if it's because of the history between the two countries. There's just always been a great rivalry. And with that there was a great desire in me to perform well there. I love the cricket culture and the people and their knowledge of the game, and I gave it everything every time I was there."

Donald wonders what might have been had he taken the final wicket at Old Trafford. "There was definitely a momentum shift after that match, because we came so close and they managed to get away with it," he said. England won the fourth Test by eight wickets and the final one by 23 runs.

When Donald returns to England in a few weeks' time, it will be as part of the team management, so he is hesitant to be drawn into a slugging match about who could win the series. "I don't want to say too much beforehand and add to the hype. But there's going to be a good contest between the two bowling sides, and whoever manages their aggression well will have an edge."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by scg1313 on (June 28, 2012, 16:23 GMT)

@srijsen- Count me out of your 'billion' supporters of IPL. Yes, it is entertaining and I watch it occasionally but about as fulfilling as a bubble gum compared to the lavish meal that is test cricket. The current generation of cricketers would not have assembled without the exploits of the previous generations to inspire them. Respect the past if you expect the same from the future.

Posted by   on (June 28, 2012, 4:34 GMT)

@srijsen - IPL is not cricket, it is just entertainment. People see it across the globe because you get to see star players of different teams play together for a club. M Vijay & Valthaty score centuries in IPL and roar like tigers, but when they are selected for India, they turn into pussy cats against world class bowlers!! Indian cricket is going to suffer because of IPL and be prepared for many more overseas whitewashes!! Real cricket is test cricket. We need players like Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly in Tests. Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Rahane are the uncapped players who have the potential to fill their shoes. But instead India has tried players like M Vijay, Mukund, Raina, Badrinath, Saha, etc. in Tests and these players dont have the temprament to play even 50 overs. they are just sitting ducks for bowlers like Steyn & Anderson. this is the reason for India's decline in Test cricket.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (June 27, 2012, 19:26 GMT)

Donald was one of the best, great action and as kids we all tried to mould our actions and bowl like him. Those tests between SA vs Eng were fantastic and an excellent showcase for test cricket, not this crappy IPL you forget about after 2 weeks. The tests were however badly affected by horrific umpiring decisions. But hopefully DRS will become common practice.

Posted by mikey76 on (June 27, 2012, 18:21 GMT)

@the_blue_android. You're forgetting that Atherton spent the last part of his career crippled by back pain which made it difficult for him to even crouch over his bat. The first two thirds of his career he averaged well over 40 and was highly regarded by the Australians as the prize english wicket at the time. The 185 at Jo'burg in 95 was one of the great captains innings alongside Gooch's 154 at Headingley in 91. He made hundreds in the caribean when Walsh and Ambrose were at their peak as well as taking on Akram,Younis,Warne, Murali etc when they were all at the top of their game. By no means a great batsman, he was a very good and very brave player. Get out of your armchair and get in the nets against some quick bowlers, see how tough it is.

Posted by pchalla on (June 27, 2012, 12:27 GMT)

Mike is a very average player and he played decent innings to save a match. English team were poor and short of victories in that era and hence even draws and decent innings in comparison are looked as victories and heroic efforts.

Posted by   on (June 27, 2012, 9:52 GMT)

None a better site than likes of Steyn, Morkels holding red cherry in their deft hands, raring to pounce at the opposition with the word go. Wow..cant wait for July 22. Everything comes for a spectacle here. If Holding was whispering death at his prime, Steyn cant be anything lesser than chirping demise...

Posted by tjsimonsen on (June 27, 2012, 8:17 GMT)

@Nerk: Absolutely brilliant. I could not have said it better myself!

Posted by Romanticstud on (June 27, 2012, 8:08 GMT)

South Africa vs England has always been a great tussle ... Donald vs Atherton at the Wanderers was great ... Hopefully another great series looms when we hit English shores ... Strauss vs Steyn ... Amla vs Anderson ... the battle of the all-rounders ... Bresnan ... Broad ... Kallis ... Duminy ... It has the makings of a great series ... On paper South Africa have a slight edge ... with Smith (always performed well in England), Amla, Kallis, De Villiers ... Morne, Steyn, Philander ... But then with Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pieterson and Bell ... Anderson, Bresnan, Swann, Broad ... England themselves, a formidable line up.

Posted by highveldhillbilly on (June 27, 2012, 6:18 GMT)

@Twirly, thanks for remembering the umpiring was shocking. Atherton actually gloved one of Donald deliveries during that spell and it wasn't given (he later gave Donald his gloves with the red cherry on one). Furthermore A. Fraser was dead plumb near the end and that wasn't given either. Wonder how the test would have turned out if the had DRS. The less said about the umpiring in the final test (something like 10 LBWs against SA all by Akhtar) the better. The only bright spot...Akhtar never umpired again after that test. Still a great series though.

Posted by MrPud on (June 27, 2012, 6:07 GMT)

Back in about '96 I watched SAF train the day before the Adelaide Test started. I positioned myself behind the batsman as Donald was going through a fitness test (which he failed) and tried to shape up to play each ball. Couldn't get close to catching up with his speed. Still think Ambrose is better and scarier!

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