November 18, 2000

Cronje comes to mind as Donald joins 300 Club

When Allan Donald took his 300th Test wicket on the third day of the first Castle Lager/MTN Test match against New Zealand in Bloemfontein on Sunday, his thoughts turned immediately to disgraced former teammate and captain Hansie Cronje.

On a day when New Zealand were bowled out for 229 in the first innings and followed on to reach 82 for one in reply to South Africa's 471 for nine declared, Donald took centre stage. But even in his moment of triumph South Africa's finest fast bowler could not help wondering what might have been.

"My mind went out straight to Hansie," Donald said afterwards. "I felt that it would have been great for him to have been there at mid off. I almost felt like looking round to see if he was charging towards me. That's something that stuck out immediately - that Hansie wasn't there next to me. Always when we've taken wickets or broken partnerships or reached milestones, he was always the one there first to congratulate me. I shall ring him tonight, but I'm sure he'll ring me first."

It was, said Donald, a milestone that had started to preoccupy him a little and he had felt relief when it finally arrived. He intends to go on, but said he might wait for more responsive pitches, perhaps in Port Elizabeth or at the Wanderers before setting 350 or possible even 400 wickets as his next goals.

Donald conceded that it would not be easy to bowl New Zealand a second time on a pitch that has steadily played slower and lower. But South Africa have two days to do it in, two days during which New Zealand will have to mount an heroic rearguard action if they are to avoid going one down in the series.

The tourists started the day at 54 for two and lost wickets steadily throughout the next two sessions. Craig Spearman went to Shaun Pollock in the eighth over of the morning before Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle mounted the only worthwhile partnership of the innings, 79 in 71 minutes for the fourth wicket.

But shortly after Fleming had reached his 25th Test fifty - the significance being that he has only twice kicked on to three figures - that man Nicky Boje reappeared to bedevil New Zealand once again.

He bowled the Kiwi captain between bat and pad for 57 and three balls later Makhaya Ntini had Astle superbly caught by Jacques Kallis diving across in front of first slip for 37.

New Zealand were to lost another wicket when Craig McMillan was caught at the wicket to become Donald's 299th victim, and two quickly after the interval as Pollock accounted for Adam Parore and Daryl Tuffey.

Then Brooke Walker, the young legspinner playing his first Test innings, and Shayne O'Connor stuck it out for 22 overs. Pollock used all his bowlers except Donald, who was kept back for the second new ball. And when it came due, it worked immediately as Donald bagged O'Connor with his first delivery to the left-hander.

The armoured car boomed out three times and the crowd rose. The only disappointing feature was that there weren't many of them. Fewer than 6 000 turned up to watch one of Bloemfontein's sons become only the 15th bowler in the history of the game to reach 300 Test wickets.

Kallis ended the innings when Chris Martin was taken by Mark Boucher, leaving Walker unbeaten on 27, and Spearman made only 15 before splicing a pull off Ntini to have New Zealand 33 for one in the follow on.

With Mark Richardson making 50, the tourists survived to the close without further mishap, but they are still 160 in arrears with two days to play. It is not, as Donald pointed out, a pitch that affords the seamers a great deal of help now, but it is starting to come through low and it won't get any better before the end of the match.

And Boje did manage to get one or two to turn on the third day. He had a terrific one-day series against New Zealand and it is entirely possible that he hasn't finished with them yet.