Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Proteas fast bowler ALLAN DONALD talks about South Africa’s Cricket World Cup chances, the Safraz Ahmed incident and whether AB de Villiers should make a late retirement U-turn.
Sport24 asked: Your view on South Africa’s 3-2 series win over Pakistan?
Allan Donald: One or two games were convincing but the others weren’t so for the home side. We don’t want to be highly critical because as long as you win matches and series it’s all that matters. Sometimes you are required to scrap and win ugly. In terms of the bowling attack, I think the Proteas are pretty much settled and what we see now will essentially be the attack going into the World Cup. However, on a batting front, it hasn’t been all that convincing against Pakistan. Nevertheless, Rassie van der Dussen has been a real find. I saw the kid about three years ago and even back then I thought he was quality. He’s a top batsman, is good in the field and is calm in terms of how he goes about his job. He has pretty much pencilled himself into our 15-man World Cup squad. South Africa got the job done at Newlands but I honestly thought that their batting line-up looked very thin with Wiaan Mulder coming in at No.6 Thereafter, South Africa were pretty much into their all-rounders and bowlers. With the World Cup drawing near, the Proteas batting order I would pick depending on the conditions is: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Faf du Plessis, Van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess South Africa’s Cricket World Cup chances?
Allan Donald: Hopefully this group of players will make us proud. There is no doubt that this Proteas side is a class outfit and are well led by Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson. The term ‘choking’ will never disappear unless we win an ICC-sanctioned event. I believe that winning a World Cup will put it to rest for good. I think it’s just a matter of finding that magic confidence that everyone is looking for and riding the wave of momentum. What a start it would be to beat England at The Oval in the opening match of the tournament. If South Africa put a dent in England first up, they would be well on their way. Setting up the momentum to go on a deep run in the tournament is crucial. You can’t go into a World Cup with ifs and buts. You have to trust everyone and buy into what the coach and captain want... This year marks 20 years since the 1999 World Cup in the UK. As a side we were so settled and had a huge leadership group. We were the number one side in the world and were favourites to win the World Cup. Our captain Hansie Cronje brought that right into our faces with some newspaper clippings. The intention was to play like favourites and we won our first five fixtures in a very difficult pool. My final memory of the 1999 World Cup isn’t something I wanted to be remembered for. It (the infamous semi-final run-out) was one of the biggest cock-ups in world cricket ever. Unfortunately, destiny wasn’t on our side but maybe this time around we go to England and play like the team we were back in those days. My wish is that this South African side will find a united form that will blow teams out of the water. It will be pleasing if the Proteas can get that right.
Sport24 asked: Does Ottis need to win the World Cup to earn a contract extension?
Allan Donald: That’s news to me. Tasked with winning the World Cup (by CSA CEO Thabang Moroe) in order to earn a contract extension is a helluva demand. That is an ultimatum that I wouldn’t go along with really but that is the pressure of the World Cup tournament. His selections for this World Cup are going to be massive and with England first up, it’s going to be a helluva challenge. England along with India are definitely the best ODI sides at the moment. Ottis has got his work cut out now but I find having to win the World Cup in order to get a contract quite harsh to be honest. However, he won’t shy away from another challenge that’s for sure, and I hope it goes well for him. He has done a pretty good job and has had a great response from the players. I love his style in Test cricket whereby he prefers to play four seamers rather than three, especially in South Africa. I know Ottis very well - we played against each other - and I think he has been fantastic for the Proteas. I love his calmness in the dressing room. Ottie is very chilled out and keeps it simple, which outlines his style.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of Safraz Ahmed’s four-match ICC sanction?
Allan Donald: I think it’s justified that the ICC have handed Safraz a four-match ban. Some would say that it’s very harsh but I just feel that if you are going to chirp someone you have got to come up with some better stuff than that. (When translated from Urdu, Safraz allegedly said to Phehlukwayo: “Hey black guy, where's your mother sitting today? What (prayer) have you got her to say for you today?”) It was incredibly personal and in your face to be honest. For me, there is no place for that on the cricket field and Safraz got what he deserved. The ICC have taken a strong stance towards anything malicious from a verbal point of view or anything which constitutes unfair play. The players know that there is no room for errors like that... My sledging of Rahul Dravid in 1997 was way over the top. We were getting a proper hiding and I called Hansie over and said, “Listen, you are going to have to back me up here because I might have to overstep the mark.” The way I said what I did to Dravid was definitely not on but I was willing to do something that might bring me a wicket. Two overs later, we got him out and eventually won that ODI final against India in Durban. Post-match, I went up to Rahul who obviously didn’t want to speak to me, and of course the Indian team wasn’t happy with me, but down the line we managed to sort it out. Looking back at it now, I reckon the match referee would have given me a year off from cricket. I said all sorts to Dravid and there was a fair amount of swearing involved. That is probably the worst moment I have ever been involved in.
Sport24 asked: Would you like to see AB de Villiers make a dramatic U-turn?
Allan Donald: I would but I think the rest of the world hopes that AB doesn’t make a last minute U-turn and avail himself for Cricket World Cup selection. I read that AB said he would sit down with Cricket South Africa, but I can’t see De Villiers returning to the international fold for South Africa. I think he has made his mind up and that is fair enough. Everyone has their own opinions on AB calling time on his Proteas career and some are harsher than others. I still believe that it’s an individual’s absolute right to say, ‘I have made a call and am moving on.’ AB has decided to move on and you have to respect that. He has a young family, is a businessman and he wants to crack on with life. In 2013, I remember having a chat with AB about how far he wants to take it and he said, “Look, I’m here to enjoy myself rather than stack up the numbers in terms of how many ODIs and Tests I’m going to play. I’ll try to push myself as much as possible for South Africa and then I’ll see where it takes me.” I respect the decision he has made. We are all going to have to live with being without him. If you look at where AB has left us, Miller is absolutely key for South Africa at this World Cup.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Dale Steyn’s recording-breaking exploits?
Allan Donald: It’s a remarkable achievement. It’s amazing how quickly he has reached the landmark as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker, averaging five wickets a Test. That doesn’t sit in just any man’s shorts and takes incredible desire and skill. You judge a great sportsman on their consistency and Steyn has that quality in spades. Dale is an absolute champion and his ability to run batsmen over when the chips are down is incredible. A while back, I thought his career was finished when he walked off the field with an Achilles tendon injury. It seemed he was done and dusted but he kept coming back. Now he is fitter, stronger and bowling quickly as well. When he gets a sniff of it, there is nobody better to watch. We have to enjoy Dale in terms of what he has left in the tank for South Africa because he has been nothing but brilliant. He has firmly put his hand up for World Cup selection and he is going to be an important part of the team. If he can play for a couple more years and get to 500 Test wickets it would be wonderful. He is just going with the flow but will know when the time is right to retire and call it. He will rather walk away on his own terms than be pushed out.
Sport24 asked: How excited are you by Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi?
Allan Donald: Without a shadow of a doubt those two will be our front-line bowlers and will lead the South African attack for quite some time. In terms of Rabada, the way he is going at the moment is magnificent. His wicket-taking rate is quite scary. He is a very thoughtful cricketer and intelligent guy. Ngidi, meanwhile, is a big bloke who is very athletic. If Ngidi overcomes his knee injury in time, he will be a huge boost for our World Cup hopes. I’ve seen Lungi working out with the South African squad and doing his rehab with the physio. The injury he sustained last November against Australia was quite severe but it’s good to hear that he is ahead of schedule in terms of his recovery process.
Sport24 asked: Who would be your three dream dinner guests?
Allan Donald: I would invite Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Novak Djokovic to my place in Paarl. In terms of Mandela, I would love to have been able to sit around a table with him and discuss how he saw leadership. I would also like to have heard is philopshy on South Africa during that time of struggle. I met him on a few occasions and he was a wonderful man. With regards to Obama, I enjoy the way he speaks and addresses people. During his time in office, I became a big Obama fan and would like to hear his views on America and the world. On a sporting front, I would love to pick Djokovic’s brain in terms of how he prepares himself, his philosophy on taking on the very best in the world and outlook on tennis. Thai food would be on the menu paired with a nice glass of red. And in terms of music - I’ve got over 500 records in my house - I would play some ABBA and Buddy Holly.