Donald upbeat about South Africa's pace future
Great cricket teams have defining features. Australia built years of victory on the back of Shane Warne and his legspin, West Indies on the legs of Malcolm Marshall and the Babylon boys, Ganguly's India broke new ground with their formidable batting line-up, Pakistan swung their way to legendary status with Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram at the helm and England's current record-breakers with the bat have helped them rise to the top of the Test rankings.
South Africa have usually relied on quality, fast bowlers and if Allan Donald has his way, their next few years will be characterised by quicks. Not just any kind of quicks; hard-line, uncompromising, forceful quicks. Donald simply labels their main quality, "aggression," but his explanation reveals that there is much more to it.
"There are two types of aggression," Donald explained. "It could be the person himself, the way he interacts with the battle in front of him. The other is aggression in the length, hitting areas hard. We often talk about aggressive lengths."
For a real-life example of what Donald means, watch Australia being bowled out for 47 in the second innings of the Test against South Africa at Newlands. "We adjusted our lengths very well in Cape Town," Donald said. Although the pitch was seamer-friendly, South Africa exploited the conditions, managing to extract seam movement and swing and were careful to stay short of a length at times, but not too short.
Of particular importance was that South Africa's pace spearhead, Dale Steyn, was back to his best. Steyn had an ordinary one-day series and complained about a lack of rhythm, something Donald can relate to. "If I didn't have rhythm a lot of things come factored in. It means you are not quite balanced, it might not come out well and you might lose your shape for a little while," he said. "Confidence plays a big part. What is so good to see, is that Dale ran in with massive intent. That's when I know he is on his game."
Donald has never talked up the importance of skill, rather he has impressed that attitude determines everything. "The first thing you judge someone by is the intent and the intent for me is that that he hits the crease hard," he said, saying he always knew Steyn would be able to mastermind his own comeback. "Great bowlers and great cricketers always find a way to come and make things happen."
A few months ago, Donald could not see another bowler on the South African landscape who he could say the same things about. He travelled with South Africa A side for a short, rather awkwardly timed, tri-series against Australia A in July in Zimbabwe and returned concerned. Instead of the usual fire-power he expected from South Africa's franchise players, he found many of them flat.
Although the pitches were unhelpful, dry, typical of winter conditions, South Africa A did not bowl their opposition out once. The second-tier bowling talent in the country appeared too far behind the top guys. Craig Alexander, the Lions paceman, who was quick and fiery at times was inconsistent, Rusty Theron played one match and could not contain in his usual fashion, Rory Kleinveldt was adequate without being exceptional and even Vernon Philander struggled.
Donald was criticised for his expressing his worries. He had only been back in the national set-up for a month and they felt he should have studied the local structures before saying they had not produced players of the right quality. Donald admits his fears but is happy to see he was mistaken. "I'll put my hand up and say I was a little bit concerned and I am not concerned anymore," he said. "What I have seen and what's out there is really exciting. The competition for places can only intensify from here."
Currently, the rivalry between Philander and Lonwabo Tsotsobe for a Test spot is the most interesting. Tsotsobe made his name against the touring Indians last summer with nothing more than 135 kph of sheer accuracy and discipline. Philander wrote his into history last week with eight wickets on debut against Australia, using seam movement as his biggest weapon. Philander's abilities with the new ball probably put him in front of Tsotsobe in the Test queue, but it's Tsotsobe who has the upper hand in the shorter versions of the game, where variation is more important.
"Vernon has been out for a while, he has learnt his game, he knows what he is about and he understands his role," Donald said. "And, he slammed the door down." Philander took 80 wickets in the SuperSport Series in the two seasons before this one, making him impossible to ignore. "That's what we are looking for from more of our young bowlers: to keep slamming the door down."
Wayne Parnell will listen to those words with interest. The quick, left-armer has fallen out of favour after numerous injuries dragged back his career. Parnell has yet to play a full season of first-class cricket in South Africa and the time he has spent touring, but not playing, with the national side, could end up costing him his place in the queue. Youngsters like Marchant de Lange and Pumelela Matshikwe are making themselves noticed instead.
de Lange, who took five wickets against Australia A two weeks ago in Potchefstroom, and claimed his maiden List A five-for two days ago, was invited to train with the national side in the lead up to the Wanderers Test. Donald first saw 21-year-old de Lange at the beginning of September and said he thought the young right-armer is a "very, exciting prospect" and wants to absorb him into the system.
"It is purely to get him involved and for him to mingle with all of us," Donald said. "He is in the bigger picture in the long term. It's quite nice that we fast track his belief. It's good to have youngsters involved and something we have to look at doing in the future."
Donald does not envisage a Patrick Cummins-style explosion of de Lange, or anyone of a similar age-group but he wants to do is create a national pool of players, who work with and around the squad and management personnel. After being pleasantly surprised by the depth in bowling that exists around the country, Donald wants to take the young charges under his wing, so that successes like Newlands will be regular occurrences. Moreover, he does not want to be seen as the fuel behind South Africa's fire, only as the man who starts the spark. "I am not here to take the honours, we are here to serve," Donald said. "It's not about me and I say that very humbly."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent