When White Lightning hit Iron Mike

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

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
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."
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