Thu, 04 Jun 2020

A duel for the ages. That's what it was.

It pitted Allan Donald, the famed "White Lightning" of the Proteas bowling attack against Michael Atherton, the obstinate backbone of any England innings.

And I was spellbound.

The year was 1998 and South Africa were on their second tour of England post isolation. Leading 1-0, a victory in the 4th Test at Trent Bridge would hand the Proteas a series win, their first in the United Kingdom since 1965.

The Proteas posted a respectable 374 in their first innings after England captain Alec Stewart won the toss and elected to field. The late Hansie Cronje (126) led the way for South Africa with Jacques Kallis (47), Sean Pollock (50) and Steve Elworthy (48) adding useful contributions.

England replied with 336 thanks to Mark Butcher (75), Atherton (58) and a stylish 67 from Mark Ramprakash. Donald was the pick of the Proteas' bowlers, taking 5/109 in 33 overs.

Sadly for South Africa, the batsmen didn't fare as well in the second innings and they were bowled out for just 208, leaving England 247 to claim the win they needed to tie up the series.

Victory for either side would stand squarely on the shoulders of Donald and Atherton. The Proteas knew they needed wickets quickly on the fourth afternoon as Atherton would be the rock on which England would build their chase.

"Both AD and I knew in that Nottingham game that whoever came out on top that evening would go on and win the game so all emotions were heightened in front of a full-house. It had all of the ingredients for a very dramatic 40 minutes," Atherton recounted to Sky Sports News in 2015.

What happened next would go down in Test cricket folklore as Donald, bowling with high pace and sustained aggression produced a superb spell of fast bowling but without an ounce of luck going in his favour.

The speedster thought he had the prized wicket of Atherton when he gloved behind to Mark Boucher while on 27. The Englishman stood his ground and despite the Proteas' pleas, umpire Steve Dunn remained unmoved.

Donald was incensed and his frustrations weren't helped when Mark Boucher dropped Nasser Hussain a few overs later. Somehow, the two English batsmen survived the ferocious spell to take the match into the fifth day. Atherton (98*) and Hussain (58) guided England to an eight-wicket victory to tie things up at 1-1. The hosts then went on to win the 5th Test by just 23 runs to claim a come-from-behind 2-1 series win.

Something primal

While seeing a batsman play an elegant drive through the covers never gets old for me, there is nothing I love more than watching a fast bowler ply his trade.

There's something primal about it. Just the batsman in his sights and only one thing on his mind... to send him back to the pavilion as quickly as possible. During the 1990s, there were plenty of quicks to admire. Think of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to name but a few. It was a spell from Donald, however, that I would never miss.

The backbone of the South African pace attack from his entry into international cricket in 1991, he ended his career with 330 Test wickets at an average of 22.25 and a strike rate of 47. Those are impressive numbers, right up there with his fast bowling rivals of that era.

Other than the spell to Atherton at Trent Bridge in 1998, two other occasions stand out for me in his illustrious Test career. The first was during India's tour to South Africa in 1992/1993. In a series marked by slow scoring, it was Donald who ripped the life out of the Indian batting line-up on a flat St George's Park pitch during the 3rd Test that gave the hosts a 1-0 series win.

He took 5-55 in the first innings and then 7-84 in the second to end with 12-139, his best bowling figures in Tests and some feat on a lifeless pitch in Port Elizabeth.

The second was his spell to the Waugh twins at the SCG during the tour of Australia in 1997/98. Again, he may not have removed either of them but it was filled with hostility and searing pace, so much so that you could hear a pin drop as the Australian crowd took it all in.

After Donald retired, I latched onto a new batch of Proteas quicks including Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and lately, Kagiso Rabada. And yes, while they all got my adrenaline pumping, it was Allan Anthony Donald where it all started. In my mind's eye, I can still see him standing at the top of his mark, sunscreen spread across his face like war paint and with a steely look in his eye as he started his graceful run-up.

Thanks for the memories, "White Lightning."

Do you have an endearing memories of Allan Donald? Let's us know what they are by emailing


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