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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

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

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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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by scg1313 on (June 28, 2012, 17:23 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, 5:34 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, 20:26 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, 19:21 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, 13:27 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, 10:52 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, 9:17 GMT)

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

Posted by Romanticstud on (June 27, 2012, 9:08 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, 7:18 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, 7:07 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!

Posted by Nerk on (June 27, 2012, 4:27 GMT)

@srijsen - Keep your rubbish IPL. The fact that people still remember test matches from ten, twenty, thirty years ago, whilst hardly anyone can remember last years IPL speaks volumes for test cricket. Test cricket is the soul of cricket, and though people like you want to sign the Faustian contract to rid the world of test matches, there is still enough of a support base around the world (including in India) to see the format prosper into the future. So, keep your 20/20, talk about the money, talk about the cash and the prima dona players, and we'll talk about the tight wins, the unbelievable draws, the gut retching defeats, and the Hobbs, the Bradmans, the Sobers and Tendulkars of this world. IPL may have the money, but the rest of the world has the soul.

Posted by brittop on (June 26, 2012, 23:53 GMT)

What utterly compelling cricket AD v MA was at Trent Bridge. @srijsen: That's why test cricket has value - the number of followers and the amount of money generated is not the only measure of worth.

Posted by tjsimonsen on (June 26, 2012, 20:53 GMT)

@SICHO: Don't agree with that. Steyn and Anderson (the latter for the past three years only) are probably up there with most bowlers from the mid and late 90s (very few other current spring to mind), but the likes of Donald and Akram still stand out. White Lightning is quite simply the best true fast bowler since Marshall - unrivalled for sustained hostility and excellence.

Posted by tjsimonsen on (June 26, 2012, 20:43 GMT)

@timmyw: Agree 100% (apart from being an Australian which I am not - I'm Danish though I live in London). But this England side keeps surprising me for better (vs. Aus and Ind) and worse (vs. Pak and SL). But the weather we have this summer may decide the series.

Posted by the_blue_android on (June 26, 2012, 18:29 GMT)

One good innings by a very average batsman. One of the many many great spells by one of the greatest fast bowlers.

Posted by SICHO on (June 26, 2012, 18:19 GMT)

@Srijsen. They don't in India but in countries like SA, Eng, Aus even the WI they do. The only reason why few people watch the IPL in SA is to see the Morkels, Steyn etc. in action thats it. When they aren't playing, no one watches it. Besides why should you love something while you're getting thrashed at it, losing 8 consecutives matches hah!! No wonder, thats embarrasing

Posted by srijsen on (June 26, 2012, 17:32 GMT)

@msg1711...you need to get your numbers correct...India has a billion followers of IPL...The total number of followers in Eng+Aus+SA cannot even get close. So, what they watch or dont watch doesnt matter. All your players come to India to earn their living and that is the reality. The cricket played in IPL is the only real cricket of any value and rest all of it is just for a miniscule audience

Posted by mikey76 on (June 26, 2012, 15:51 GMT)

I was at Trent Bridge during "that spell" by Donald to Atherton. You could barely see the ball as it left his hand. I remember the speed gun showing 93+ mph regularly. Atherton may have been made to look average by McGrath later on in his career but he played some great innings against the likes of Donald and Pollock and Ambrose and Walsh. A wonderfully brave player. The atmosphere at Headingley when we won the series was special, a bright spot in an otherwise bad period for english cricket.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (June 26, 2012, 15:49 GMT)

I remember the match well. After that the momentum went completely the other way, and SA were left wondering quite what had happened. But ofcourse native conservativism found SA out badly in the end, taking up part of the third morning while compiling their 1st innings, and in any case wih Atherton and Stewart it seldom mattered how fast the bowler was. Brilliant viewing there and in the last two Tests.

Posted by msg1711 on (June 26, 2012, 14:55 GMT)

srijsen...you way overestimate the importance of the IPL. Its not watched by many at all in the UK. In South Africa its never been all that popular and has steadly declined since being held there. In Australia they didnt even carry any TV coverage this year.

Your view that test cricket doesnt matter is way off the mark.

Posted by HumungousFungus on (June 26, 2012, 14:47 GMT)

A friend of mine was in the very early stages of his career at Glamorgan when he played against Warwickshire in a Sunday League game, in which a young Allan Donald was also playing. As he strode to the wicket, he did the usual thing of looking around the field, then, as he described it, did a massive double take, because there appeared to be three fielders at third man. Further examination confirmed that these were indeed the slips, and that they were stood between 25-30 metres back from the wicket, which was largely unheard of in county cricket in those days. The first ball from Donald was heard rather than seen, as it smashed audibly into the keepers gloves to a chorus of "Well bowled Rocket Man!!!" from the 'close' fielders. Needless to say, the innings was short and not particularly sweet.

Posted by Twirly on (June 26, 2012, 14:45 GMT)

In 25 years of following cricket closely (especially Tests) I don't think I've ever witnessed umpiring as poor as it was in that 1998 series. The momentum shift towards England after the Old Trafford draw definitely helped England to a 2-1 win, but so did Javed Akhtar and his colleagues! With DRS (or better umpires) the result would have been very different. As for the upcoming 2012 series, if the English 'drought' conditions - i.e. persistent rain - continue, we may not get enough play for a result! Weather aside, it's going to be a close contest all the way...

Posted by whatawicket on (June 26, 2012, 14:27 GMT)

as another writer comments SA were very safety conscious i think its in their nature. but as stated england did take it as a win. similar in 05 and the Aussies did the same as they drew the game.i was at both games perhaps, great crowds on the last day.i had tickets for the 1st 4 days against aus so the 5th days ticket was free. there was 1000s outside the ground as i walked passed, great test cricket at its best.

Posted by srijsen on (June 26, 2012, 14:21 GMT)

Who cares? None of these series attract as much of money or people to the ground like the IPL. Total waste of one's time and hanging onto traditions that are not relevant anymore. Test cricket is an obsolete art and players like Atherton/Donald dont matter anymore.

Posted by py0alb on (June 26, 2012, 14:14 GMT)

Fantastic series. 5 games between 2 evenly matched teams, finishing 2-1 to England. Look at all the dramataic memories people still have of that brilliant series. I was there with my father on that incredible last day in Manchester and we were there again to watch us win in Nottingham a few weeks later. Who said draws are boring? It was that 5th day that swung the momentum of the series irreversibly in England's direction.

If only we could have a compelling 5 match series in 2012 to look back on with equal reverence! Sadly it is not to be, the ICC seems determined to destroy cricket forever.

Posted by SDHM on (June 26, 2012, 14:08 GMT)

@djdrastic - an argument for DRS if there ever was one :)

Posted by Shantan on (June 26, 2012, 14:00 GMT)

Abhay, I don't think South Africa know why they fail at the last hurdle... if they knew, they would have fixed it by now :)

Posted by SICHO on (June 26, 2012, 13:21 GMT)

@Geeva. Come on it seems like you are forgetting the likes of Steyn, Anderson, Broad, Roach, Philander, Hilfenhaus etc. There are world class fast bowlers in this era

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (June 26, 2012, 12:12 GMT)

AD has had some gr8 battles with Atherton, remember a fast & furious spell in mid late 90's in england in which Atherton was declared not out for a caught behind appeal and AD went flat out....i think that test was also drawn...thatz what test cricket is all about....am indian but would love watching the saffer and english,two top sides battle it out in tests...Bring it on....!

Posted by   on (June 26, 2012, 11:45 GMT)

If I recall, SA batted into the 3rd day. And they weren't batting like Gilchrist. SA's fatal flaw over the years has been not going all out to win. If they'd declared late on day 2 they probably would have had enough time to bowl England out twice and win the series. But that's cricket.

Posted by timmyw on (June 26, 2012, 11:15 GMT)

I agree, I am Australian and I would rather see another test between SA and England. My mouth has been watering at the prospect of watching this series for quite some time now. My money is on SA. Their bowling attack seems to excite me a little more. Although they are in English conditions. Can't wait to watch this.

Posted by Geeva on (June 26, 2012, 10:36 GMT)

Mike Atherton was a great England opener!!I still remember his innings in Jhb where saved the test!To face a hostile Allan Dolland takes courage and skill!he may have avg jus under 40 but in that area was equivalent to what Trott averages nw(no world class bowlers in this current era Mr Flintoff)

Posted by Tom_Bowler on (June 26, 2012, 8:47 GMT)

Amazing in hindsight that a very limited England managed to win a five Test series against a very good South Africa side. Whatever happens in the series to come it will surely be close, since readmission England and SA have shared three series and there has never been a winning margin greater than a single match although England have won two dead rubbers in that time. What a shame we are wasting time with an irrelevant one day series against Australia when we could be watching an extra Test between the world's best teams.

Posted by djdrastic on (June 26, 2012, 8:43 GMT)

What I vividly remember about that series was Makhaya Ntini given out LBW in the final test to a ball that wouldn't have touched 2 sets of stumps.Some incredibly bad umpiring cost both teams very dearly throughout the series.

Posted by praful_cric on (June 26, 2012, 6:34 GMT)

Test cricket.. the best format

Posted by   on (June 26, 2012, 6:31 GMT)

Very Nice match.. Cant understand why south africa fail at last hurdle.. They only would have the answer...

Posted by 1st_april on (June 26, 2012, 4:40 GMT)

ENG-SAF series was marred by bad decisions.....cricket is played in the dark ages still....compared to other sports...

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