Michael Atherton vs Allan Donald, Trent Bridge, 1998: 'I remember the intensity'
Allan Donald: "I just said to Ath, 'you strap yourself in son, you're in for a hard ride here'"
Last Updated: 19/05/20 12:19pm
Michael Atherton says Allan Donald was one of the fastest bowlers he ever faced, as he recalls his battle with the South African quick in the 1998 Trent Bridge Test match.
On a special Watchalong, which you can watch in the video above, on Sky Sports Cricket's YouTube channel, and On Demand, Atherton joined Donald and his batting partner from 22 years ago, Nasser Hussain, to relive the action.
Prior to the Trent Bridge tussle, England had memorably held on for a draw against South Africa in Johannesburg in 1995, with Atherton occupying the crease for a massive 492 deliveries, finishing unbeaten on 185.
"I think what people love watching sport for is the build-up of a rivalry," Atherton said. "I was an opening batsman, he [Donald] was an opening bowler, so we had that rivalry which built up over time.
"I would say, of this era, Donald, Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee - those three were just a notch above, in terms of pure pace, than all the rest.
"I loved it. I remember the feeling of the intensity. I find it very odd now, looking back, it's so long ago that it almost feels like somebody else out there.
"I can't remember how long it lasted all told, 50 minutes or so. But I remember it very vividly as being a really intense passage of play."
Trailing 1-0 in the five-Test series in 1998, England were well placed to level things up as, chasing 247 to win the fourth Test, Atherton had helped the hosts off to a strong start at 76-1 deep into the fourth evening...
Donald comes on for a second spell...
DONALD: "You know that Michael is the one. He is their rock. He is the one you need to knock over, otherwise it's going to be Johannesburg all over again.
"He's always been one of those resilient players that always gets under your skin; that little 'universities' stare under the helmet. You knew every time you would play against him it would be hard graft.
💬 He was always a hell of a resilient player. That little university stare under the helmet! 💬@AllanDonald33 on his battles with @athersmike as the watchalong of their epic 1️⃣9️⃣9️⃣8️⃣ duel at @trentbridge begins 🏴🆚🇿🇦— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) May 17, 2020
Watch on Sky Sports Cricket 👉 https://t.co/5avMoUAmRF pic.twitter.com/wiDJY6FLE0
"I thought, I'm going to spend a bit of time out here now, set some funky fields, try and be aggressive, bowl as quickly as possible and see if something happens.
"You've got to keep believing. It's one wicket away, just one wicket and we might have a sniff here.
"The series was in the balance; this was the contest, the next hour or so."
ATHERS: "What you see here is a very, very controlled fast bowler as opposed to Allan Donald of the early Warwickshire years, who was perhaps a bit quicker but all over the place.
"It was a very slow pitch. Flat, as Trent Bridge often was back in the day. And I suppose that is the mark of a great fast bowler.
"There's plenty of people that can get you hoping around at Perth, Brisbane, or The Oval back in the day, but to get you hoping around on this is impressive."
NASSER: "I had the best seat in the house. I wasn't backing up too much; I was stood on my bat.
"Let's be honest, Donald was a massive threat! You had Shaun Pollock, who would test your technique, but AD would test your ticker and technique.
"I'll reiterate, this was the flattest pitch of all time. It speaks volumes of AD, what he got out of this pitch at this stage was absolutely phenomenal.
"He suddenly just went up a gear and we had to go 'hold on, we've got to just concentrate here because if we lose one or two now, Donald could run through us'.
"Another thing to put into context as well, it was quite an acrimonious series. These two are talking like big buddies now, but around about this point in this series, there was no love lost between these two sides.
"There was some dodgy umpiring; I think pretty soon we'll see one..."
Athers gloves Donald behind... given not out!
How was that not given out? 😱@athersmike gloves @AllanDonald33 behind - but stands his ground and then scores streaky boundary... 🤣— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) May 17, 2020
The battle is on! 🆚
💬 Strap yourself in, son, you're in for a hard ride here... 💬
Watchalong on SS Cricket 👉 https://t.co/5avMoURXJd pic.twitter.com/eCO0bpxJAP
DONALD: "I was going round the wicket here; in my mind was 'I've got to go short now'.
"Oh, you little beauty! It was a great catch from Mark Boucher. I sort of ran across the middle of the strip [to celebrate].
"I thought 'you have got to be kidding me? How can you not give this out?'"
ATHERS: "I can remember, actually, when it smashed into my glove, I almost started to walk. And just for whatever reason, I said 'no, just stay there'. Ridiculous really. Good ol' [umpire] Steve Dunn!"
"I walked about as often as you did, [Nasser]."
DONALD: "I got a nod from [coach] Bob Woolmer, saying 'that's out, it was the glove'.
"Now, of course, I'm running out of words here and I'm boiling over. I stood back at the top of my mark and took a big, big breath and said 'this has got to be full'."
Donald's next ball is full, and Atherton inside-edges it for four down to the fine-leg boundary...
NASSER: "Now you are ticking!"
DONALD: "That absolutely rubs it in.
"Nas, you said I said something in Afrikaans. Absolutely not. I just said to Ath, 'you strap yourself in son, you're in for a hard ride here'."
NASSER: "I'm loving it now. Because I know AD has got what, two short balls an over? He is so ticking with Ath, that they're going to be at Atherton.
"I'm going to get everything pitched up and Ath is going to get all the chin music. I don't want a run here, you take it Ath."
.@nassercricket - 💬 I'm loving it now. Ath's going to get all the chin music, I'm going to get the ones he pitches up! 💬— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) May 17, 2020
Nasser on the iconic @athersmike 🆚 @allandonald33 battle, which he watched from the other end 🏴🇿🇦🏏
Watchalong on SS Cricket 👉 https://t.co/5avMoUAmRF pic.twitter.com/vooSCIjD7S
Donald has some words for Athers, who stares back...
DONALD: "I've got no worries about people who don't walk. I seriously don't. You take the good with the bad and it's just one of those things.
"You've just got to take your hat off the Michael and how he handled this whole thing. At the end of the day, he saw this through and won the Test match."
ATHERS: "AD is chatting away at the end of his mark and I'm staring back at him. There's a bit of verbals going on, but I think the crowd loves that. There's a big difference between that and pre-meditated sledging.
"I think it's absolutely fine when there is a bit of chat in the middle as a result of the action. The sense of theatre; the crowd absolutely love that."
NASSER: "It's a good lesson, for anyone. You've got one of the great fast bowlers that has ever bowled steaming in at you, and after every ball he is looking at you.
"Ath never takes his eyes off him, never looked away and never showed any kind of fear. It's a good lesson; 'you might be intimidating me and inwardly my ticker is going at 100mph, but I'm not going to show you that'.
DONALD: "The emotion was taking over, but one of the big things for me now was, I had to keep control. Because of my anger, I could've just lost the plot here and been careless.
"But also, it ignited something. We'd got something going and, all of a sudden, there was a bit in it. The adrenaline kept me ticking over.
"The crowd was getting behind England, getting behind Athers, but just felt there was something round the corner, and that round the corner was, I think, this very next ball, when Nas gets dropped..."
Nasser edges Donald behind, but Boucher drops it!
💬 I don’t think I’ve ever shouted so much in my life in a cricket match. My veins were popping out! 💬@AllanDonald33 was steaming when Mark Boucher dropped @nassercricket - but Nasser was loving it 😠😁— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) May 17, 2020
Atherton 🆚 Donald watchalong on SS Cricket 👉 https://t.co/5avMoURXJd pic.twitter.com/6xShyfUFJs
ATHERS: "AD's reaction here is brilliant!"
NASSER: "I'm more pleased with Boucher's reaction. One of my favourite moments in Test cricket!"
DONALD: "I don't think I've ever shouted so loud in my life, in any cricket match. My veins were popping out there!
"Nice and full, just the right angle. I don't know whether he [Boucher] has taken his eye off the ball, or it's too quick there.
"He's a very good wicketkeeper and a great team man. That's why I felt for him when he put that down. It happens. I went up to him from fine leg and said, 'just stay with me, and it might come again'."
Another opportunity would not come for Donald and South Africa that evening, and England would close on 108-1, 139 runs shy of a series-levelling victory...
ATHERS: "I think we kind of thought we'd win the game now. Flat pitch, chasing 247 - not a cake walk, but not a horrendous task.
"I think we all recognised that last passage of play on the fourth evening was going to determine the game, so once we got through that, I think we felt we'd win that game."
DONALD: "I sort of made up my mind that, as long as I wasn't absolutely spent, I was willing to go the whole hog [that session]. Everything was up, my rhythm was up, the ball was coming out really well.
"But I felt it when I went upstairs after the day's play. It's almost like everything just goes out of you. I even still felt it the next morning - I tried to hype myself up, to get myself in that same mindset again and set the tone early, but I could not replicate that.
"The guts went out of me the next morning; we'd given it as good as we'd got. Unfortunately we couldn't punch that hole we were so desperately searching for."
Donald would (finally) pick up Hussain's wicket on the fifth morning, but Atherton would see England home to a two-wicket win, finishing 98 not out...
Rivals on the field - but drinking buddies off it 👍@allandonald33 says he and @athersmike shared a beer after their ferocious battle at @trentbridge in 1️⃣9️⃣9️⃣8️⃣— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) May 17, 2020
Oh, and he also got Athers' glove! 🧤
Watchalong on Sky Sports Cricket 👉 https://t.co/5avMoURXJd pic.twitter.com/TsblWcM9PI
ATHERS: "I think I won man of the match, and we used to get big jeroboam of champagne in those days, so I got him [Donald] to sign that and I signed my glove. I'm sure he's got it somewhere and I've got the bottle somewhere.
DONALD: "Michael came to the dressing room actually, brought some beers with him, and gave me his right glove - with a big fat red mark on it!"
Following on from the drama at Trent Bridge, England would go on to win a thrilling final Test at Headingley by 23 runs to claim the series 2-1.