• Big boots to fill as Donald steps down

    Proteas bowling coach Allan Donald has vacated the building. And at the door he’s left big size 13s to fill.

    Understandably, there is immediate speculation as to who will replace the man known as ‘White Lightning’, one of the greats of the South African game and one of the most respected fast bowlers in his day, as well as being a much-admired bowling coach. There should be no rush to appoint a replacement.

    Under his watch, which started shortly after Gary Kirsten joined as Proteas head coach after winning the 2011 Cricket World Cup with India, South Africa have risen to the top of the tree. It’s no coincidence that Vernon Philander’s Test debut came at Newlands, against Australia, just five months after Donald came on board. The newbie’s impact was immediate, and within a year of Donald’s appointment, Philander had raced to 50 Test wickets in only seven matches. It was a stunning arrival at the highest level and while the player was thrust into the spotlight, both Kirsten and Donald quietly went about their business in the background.

    And so, over the subsequent four seasons that Donald was bowling coach, he oversaw the development of Philander and honed the skill sets of both Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, with the trio being the most feared seam attack in the world. They were backed up by Jacques Kallis and it is no coincidence either that South Africa rose to No 1 in the world in both the Test and ODI arena.

    ‘I have had some time to reflect after the World Cup and have come to the conclusion that the time is right to move on,’ the 48-year-old said in announcing his departure. Father Time still has to preside over the matter but Donald’s timing is spot-on. Rather step down too soon than too late – as Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said in making her own decision to vacate the DA hot seat at the weekend.

    I don’t believe we should be trying to shine a torch into dark corners and look for more into the matter than Donald simply reflecting on a World Cup campaign that came unstuck in the semi-finals, and deciding he’s had a good four years and wants to step away. Sure, the conspiracy theorists will try to suggest that selection allegations surrounding that match against New Zealand had something to do with him quitting. We still don’t know if the allegations are true, but Donald’s decision should be respected and taken at face value.

    He steps down after overseeing Steyn’s rise to No 1 in the world Test rankings, where Philander is at No 7 and Morkel at No 11. The next Test assignment comes in July away to Bangladesh and Donald will have looked at the calendar and believed that if he was to quit his role, rather now than later in the year, when England come touring.

    In resigning now, Donald has given the new man enough time to bed in with the side ahead of that end of year assignment. And the new man will know what he is inheriting: the best bowling attack in Test cricket – if only he could get Imran Tahir to be more effective in that form of the game that would be first prize – but also plenty of yards in the legs of Dale Steyn (now 31), Morne Morkel (30) and Philander (30 in June). However, Kyle Abbott (only 27) looks here to stay and Kagiso Rabada is the future.

    He’ll turn 20 in May, but is already a winner of the U19 Cricket World Cup and he has Donald’s stamp of approval. ‘He’s a great athlete and he’s got an immaculate work ethic. He’s got some gas for a 19-year-old and he’s built like a racehorse – a thoroughbred at that,’ said Donald of the 1.91m quickie at the end of last year.

    ‘He just eats and sleeps thinking about the Proteas cap and he will be around for a long time. His time will come, there’s no doubt about it.’

    Those who will presumably be considered include someone who was part of the bowling plan at the World Cup – Charl Langeveldt – though other names that could be bandied about include Paul Adams, Alfonso Thomas, yet should someone like Makhaya Ntini show interest, it would be hard not to welcome him into the fold in some shape or form. Donald replaced Vinnie Barnes, but the latter now has a big role to play at the High Performance Centre and is probably of the opinion that he has been there and got the T-shirt when it comes to the Proteas bowling job.

    Deliberately, there is no mention of a foreigner being brought in. I simply can’t see it happening at a time when Cricket SA has gone on record to voice its ambition about bringing more black talent through the system. One assumes that with such drives in place, a person of colour will be appointed, although that is not to suggest it won’t be on merit, because there are genuine candidates.

    But, Donald’s input and influence since 2011 cannot be underestimated. The new man, whoever he is, will have a hard act to follow.

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    Gary Lemke