A giant in every sense of the term

A great cricketing career has come to an end. Allan Donald, the White Lightning, has bid adieu to the game.

K. SRIKKANTH

A great cricketing career has come to an end. Allan Donald, the White Lightning, has bid adieu to the game.

Allan Donald — flanked by Shaun Pollock (far left) and Nantie Hayward — always had words of encouragement for up and coming fast bowlers. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Ironically, the man with some great conquests in the cricketing arena, went out in a sad manner, not finding a place in the South African XI in that tragic Group `B' game against the Sri Lankans.

It was clear during the World Cup that Donald was past his best, and in the end it was a tired body snuffing out the spirit. However, the fiery pace ace will be remembered as a South African legend.

I still remember the first occasion that I faced him. It was on a flat Gwalior pitch in 1991, yet he worked up extraordinary speed. The South Africans had just returned to the international stage after years in banishment and here was a man hungry for success.

He was the one who dismissed me in my final innings for India — during the '92 World Cup down under — and that is one more reason that he'll forever stay in my memory!

At his peak Donald was quick, but unlike so many from his tribe, he was seldom wayward. In fact, he had exceptional control over his bowling, and had the ability to work on a batsman.

A long stint in the English county circuit matured him greatly as a bowler and it was there that he learnt the virtues of conserving his energy, something vitally important for a fast bowler.

Over the years, I have greatly admired his ability to deliver on the big occasion. If the challenge were to be great, the greater would be his effort. He loved bowling to accomplished batsmen and his duels with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh were stirring.

A lethal strike bowler, he was always on the look-out for wickets and the manner in which he went after scalps match after match was quite amazing. Even in the ODIs, Donald understood well that if he could fire out batsmen quickly, the match would be won.

He had a lot going for him as a paceman extraordinaire. He had a smooth rhythmic run-up, a wonderfully fluent action and a lovely outswinger. In fact, the South African picked up so many wickets with the away going delivery.

Donald also had a mean short ball, which meant most batsmen could not confidently get on to their front foot against him. And he possessed a scorching yorker with which he nailed a number of batsmen in the limited overs contests.

Fast bowlers hunt in pairs they say and Donald's partnership with Shaun Pollock was among the more productive ones in Test history. Donald rattled them with his pace and fire and Pollock got them with his movement. This was a combination that worked magic for South Africa.

Donald was much senior to Pollock. However, that did not prevent him from passing the tricks of the trade to his much younger partner. I have heard, not without reason, that Donald was extremely helpful to the up and coming paceman and this only reveals another glowing quality in the man.

The late South African captain Hansie Cronje had a major influence on his career, and so did his former coach Bob Woolmer. They had backed the right man as Donald took South Africa from strength to strength.

In fact, if South Africa could make such a huge impact so soon after returning from banishment then Donald's role in that has been significant. He was the man who could strike early blows and return to haunt the batsmen in the later stages of the innings.

With South Africa short of batting role models, Allan Donald soon became an icon in a land that needed one. He was the figure who would inspire the nation.

At a personal level, I have always found him to be easily approachable and level-headed. He has no airs about him despite his stature and is someone I have greatly respected.

There may have been times when he has spoken words of anger on the cricket field, but this is only understandable in a fast bowler. I have also seen him sport a genial smile in the cricketing arena. Deep down, he did appear a friendly man.

Such a likable cricketer deserved a better send-off than having to cool his heels in the dressing room in what was his last match with the South African squad. In the end, he succumbed to the temptation of carrying on a touch longer than his body would allow him to.

Winning the World Cup had been Donald's big dream, but it was his mix-up with Lance Klusener in that dramatic semifinal in '99 that cost the Proteas a place in the final of the premier one-day competition as the Australians went through. That was a mishap that must have haunted Donald.

Donald retired from Test cricket in early 2002 but stayed on for the ODIs, only because the World Cup was being played on South African soil. He wanted to have one last fling at a title that had eluded both him and his side.

It was clear that he had lost much of his pace by now, which meant the batsmen could strike him off the front foot; only the very best could accomplish this in his heyday. He appeared jaded and it was evident that the passing years had taken their toll.

I can remember another great cricketer, Pakistan's Javed Miandad, cutting a sorry figure in his last World Cup. The Pakistani came out of retirement for the '96 edition and found life in the competition hard, struggling as he was with his fitness.

Donald may have made the same mistake, but let's remember him for the good times. In his prime he was an outstanding, match-winning fast bowler. He could put fear in the batsmen and then dismiss them. Fast bowlers such as him are rare. He was a giant in every sense of the term.