’99 regrets and the World Cup is No.1: Allan Donald warns England to embrace favourites’ tag

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Asked to name his enduring memory of the World Cup, Allan Donald’s mind travels back to 1999 not, he says, because of his “tragic” run-out in that legendary semi-final, but because he knows in his heart that South Africa had the ability to win the tournament.

And, speaking at Canterbury ahead of an English season which will feature the World Cup’s return to this country for the first time since that tournament, Donald drew parallels between his South Africa side of 20 years ago, and the potential of the current England team which looks set to begin this year’s campaign as favourites.

“My memory that will always stand out is the ’99 World Cup, not because I was run out in the semi-final, but the team that I played with, that team had the belief, I just knew that team had the ability to win the World Cup for sure,” Donald told ESPNcricinfo. “The disappointing fact of what happened was just a real tragedy.

“To have played and represented your country for four World Cups has been brilliant but not having won any of them has probably been the most disappointing thing of all. I hope this South African side pulls it through, for the country, it needs that sort of thing, so I really hope that they can do something quite special.”

While his heart might say South Africa for the win, Donald’s head agrees wholeheartedly with England carrying the label of favourites into the 2019 edition and he likened the host side’s potential – both on the field and with regards to embracing favouritism – to that 1999 South African team, in particular how captain Hansie Cronje was keen for them to revel in being seen as the ones to beat.

Donald, who was England bowling coach in 2007 before turning down the job full-time for family reasons, said the current England side were well settled, had home advantage and were perfectly placed to embrace, rather than shun, the hype surrounding them as favourites – something that coach Trevor Bayliss has also been keen to emphasise.

“On current form, you’ve got to say that England are playing a brand of cricket that’s saying to others, ‘you’re going to beat us, you’re going to have to play out of your boots,'” said Donald, who is about to start his second season as assistant coach at Kent. “They’ve put down a marker for everyone else.”

Another “but” follows, although not nearly as heavily emphasised as before: “But you’ve got an Indian team who are playing as well right now, the Aussies are making a move and don’t throw away West Indies all of a sudden, because they now have found a new lease of life and confidence.”

While he would like to believe South Africa could “do something quite special” and achieve a feat which none of their predecessors has managed – they have never progressed beyond the semi-finals – Donald admitted facing England in the World Cup opener was “going to be a tough one for them”.

He seemed more confident about Pakistan causing an upset, as they did in 1992, scraping through the group stage to defeat New Zealand in the semi-finals, before beat England in their maiden World Cup final appearance.

“Pakistan just find a way sometimes. The unpredictability of Pakistan can never, ever be put on the backburner,” Donald said of the side ranked No. 6 in the world in ODIs but who won the last global tournament to be played on English soil – the Champions Trophy in 2017.

But Donald was even more enthused about West Indies, who drew their recent ODI series with England 2-2 in the Caribbean thanks to some extraordinary batting from Chris Gayle and a bowling display, led by Sheldon Cottrell, that held its own against England’s powerful batting line-up.

“Watch out for the West Indies, I say, watch out for the West Indies,” Donald said. “There’s just something there, there’s a new spark there that I think the rest of the world want to see – West Indies competing like they are right now. The men in Maroon, for me, I would say, be wary of them, they’re going to really be a factor in this World Cup.”

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