It's been more than a decade since Allan Donald last played international cricket. Since hanging up his boots as one of South Africa's greatest ever fast bowlers, Donald has taken up coaching, with county and country stints. Formerly bowling coach of Pune Warriors India, he assumed the role of the head coach - his first such position for a high profile side - for the Indian Premier League 2013. It's not exactly been a smooth ride, with the losses mounting and Pune running into Chris Gayle at his destructive best on April 23 in Bangalore. Donald, who seldom came off second best on the cricket field, spoke to Wisden India about the challenges of coaching an IPL side, and how he would have bowled to a batsman like Gayle. Excerpts:
Q. How would you have bowled to Chris Gayle?
A. I would be very, very aggressive with Gayle. He's a very special, gifted individual and he has hit guys to all parts of the world. Not just what happened there that night (on April 23, when Gayle smashed 175 not out off 66 balls against Pune). I've seen him hit Brett Lee enormously far.
But I would be very aggressive. One thing we didn't do was we didn't use the short ball enough. Guys got scared, they ran for cover. Once you get thumped out of the ground, are you going to try it again? Maybe not. My approach would be that I would just try not to back down with him at all. I've seen him get out to it before - the short ball. But then again, you think, what if it doesn't come off? The one thing bowlers do is back off their strength. For me, Brett is one of those guys who never stops trying, and he stays with his strength, which is to be very aggressive.
This guy has got the best eye in the game. He's done it in Test cricket, he's doing it in Twenty20. He's the most destructive batsman I've ever seen in this form of the game. And the distances he hits the cricket ball is just phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. But if you get scared against him, if you go into your shell - he will hurt you. And that's what we did. We got too defensively minded, and that's what he'll do to you. That's the scary thought of facing this bloke - he's monumental in his destruction if you let him.
Q. And what of someone like AB de Villiers, who can score to pretty much any area in the field. How would you bowl to him?
A. In my last year of provincial cricket, I played against AB and I tried to do the same thing (be aggressive). My natural instinct is to be aggressive in the way I approach players like that. It's easier said than done. I've found that Brian Lara was a genius. When he was on, he could play any shot in the book. Any shot. De Villiers is different again, he's a freak. He'll lap you, he'll reverse lap you. You change a field, he will manipulate that field - which is an unreal skill. You bring your fine-leg and third-man back and bowl a wide yorker, he gets that far across and still manages to get you there for six. Players who go both sides and still manipulate the field, I think that's the hardest thing to do, to bowl to them. I won't say I don't know where to bowl to him, but he's going to make it very difficult. Your best chance is to try and knock him over early, but AB gets going into his innings so quickly, you haven't got time to relax. And that's the best thing about AB de Villiers. He gives you nothing to work with, very early. So I guess the only thing left for me to say is that I'm happily retired!
Q. How has the experience of being the head coach of an IPL side been?
A. To be dead honest, you don't have enough time to make a significant impact with players. But it's the environment that you create in a short space of time that makes players comfortable, gets them into a comfortable mental state, and keeps them happy and not too overawed about the IPL. As I said to the players before, I'm still learning what it is to be a team coach. It's something I've always wanted to do. Although it might not show in the results, I think I've created something with the Pune Warriors this far, and the team and environment that I'm working with is a really good one. I'm quite satisfied with what's happened so far. Although we haven't played very well, overall I'm thinking it's been a good crack so far.
It's like what Aaron Finch said after the match against Bangalore. Your standing on the table doesn't reflect it, but Pune have played a lot better cricket than the points tables suggests...
That's exactly it. I can't fault our preparation and our commitment to what we're trying to do. Everyone's been saying, 'What is the problem with Pune?' And I'm still trying to unlock that door. I think Aaron's right. It doesn't reflect. With some of the games that we've lost so closely, and we find ourselves in a game where we walked into one man's den against Bangalore. Basically, I've never seen hitting like that in all my life. But that's cricket for you. The job now becomes even harder to try and motivate a team. I said to the players the other day, the more you lose the more team meetings you have. And I don't want to go there. So my job now becomes a question of how do I motivate players individually to make a contribution. At the end of the day, it lies with the players and how they can bounce back from this disappointment. But yes, we're not far away from putting it together. All we need is a little bit of momentum. And that's up to the players to create. We just provide (the environment) and prepare them well, and I can't fault that. Everytime we go out there, and we sit on the side and we see things unfold and you're helpless. That's just coaching.
Q. You're working with a few young Indian pacers in the Pune team. Your thoughts on them?
A. I'll start with Ishwar Pandey. To be honest, I have not seen enough of him. I saw his stats in the domestic four-day competitions, and he's bowled a lot of overs, more than 360 overs. And he's obviously got results and is a skilful bowler. This format of the game, I can honestly say, I don't really know.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has shown that you don't need pace to be a successful bowler. In the shorter format, Bhuvi will be a handful because he bowls four overs with the new ball. And he's shown again, against Bangalore, where he was a handful even to the best of Chris Gayle.
Q. What do you tell them about bowling in T20 matches?
A. The greatest coaching for me about bowling is the attitude towards the skill. You're always going to be under pressure for 24 balls. But it's how smartly you can channel that attitude when you're under pressure. How do you approach that mentally? Bowlers are under more pressure than batsmen in this form of the game, there's no question about it. But if you back off mentally, you're going to get hurt.
Sitting there next to the field, I watched Ishwar bowl (against Bangalore). And I just knew where Chris Gayle was going with this. He saw this kid coming in, a new face, and he said 'I'm going to take you down'. And I felt sorry for Ishwar that night, because what a place to make your debut - against this guy. But you know, he said it was a great learning experience for him and getting into the next game might be a bit more relaxing for him.
It's been good working with all of them. Krishnakant Upadhyay is one of those guys who I think has a lot to offer the franchise. He's been a little unlucky not to be involved in the set-up. He's got a lot on the ball, and he bowls a heavy ball. He's got a really, really good action. But there's so many players, so many to work with that you never get to see them often enough. When I go back to Pune after the game against Delhi, it'll be good to catch up with him.