Balancing attack and defence: Donald’s mantra

“Donald for Glammy is outstanding,” former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted in the summer of 2016. “No doubt he will play for England… I reckon he might captain them one day as well.” Given that World in Motion client Aneurin Donald was just 19 at the time, that was about as ringing an endorsement as they come from the 2005 Ashes winning captain.

Vaughan’s comments came after Donald, who had never scored a Championship hundred before, had equalled the world record for the fastest double century in first-class cricket when he made 234 against Derbyshire. He brought up his 200 in 123 balls, the same number it took former Indian batsman Ravi Shastri for Bombay against Baroda in 1985. Unaware of the record until he walked off, Donald said he would have tried to get there sooner had he known.

It was an innings which put Donald’s potential firmly on the map. Not that Glamorgan have ever doubted it. They gave him his first-team debut in 2014 at the age of 17 and the former England Under-19 captain has been touted as the county’s future batting star since an early age. Vaughan, who worked with Donald on the ECB’s Performance Programme, had clearly seen what many at Glamorgan had when he told BBC Sport Wales in 2016: “It’s not just the talent with him – it’s his maturity and his temperament and I think it’s going to take him a long way.”

Donald finished that 2016 breakthrough season with 983 Championship runs. It felt like a coming of age and much was therefore expected of the right-hander last year but things, as so often for young players, didn’t run smooth. An average of 25.63 from 11 Championship matches was a disappointing return although there were a couple of brilliant T20 innings to remind everyone – as if they needed reminding – of his talent.

“I was a bit disappointed with my red ball form,” Donald tells Cricbuzz. “I did pretty well in 2016 but it was a classic case of getting in and getting out last season. I felt like I was held back by a few technical things which I have worked on. I feel like my game definitely suits T20 at the moment. It’s about trying to be a bit more consistent and flexible in the red ball form.”

Donald spent two months this winter at the Gary Kirsten Academy in Cape Town with fellow Glamorgan players Owen Morgan, a spin bowling all-rounder, and batsman David Lloyd. The drought conditions currently besieging that great city meant they had to shower in buckets and wash their clothes in the swimming pool of their hotel but the facilities at the Academy were first rate and Donald worked on some technical things with his set-up with the aim of “simplifying” his technique.

Former Glamorgan and England batsman Matt Maynard’s return to the club as a batting consultant after a spell as Somerset Director of Cricket has come at the right time too. His experience and high standards should be just what a talented but sometimes brittle batting line-up need.

This year, the county will be shorn of the experienced South Africans Jacques Rudolph and Colin Ingram in the Championship, the former because of retirement and the latter because of his decision to play only white ball cricket. Although Australian Shaun Marsh has been signed to cover for some of that loss of experience, players like Donald, Morgan, Lloyd, Kit Carlson and Andrew Salter will need to step up.

How does Donald, an experienced cricketer now even at the tender age of 21, feel about the added responsibility? “It’s something I really look forward to,” he says. “You want to be the man and leave your mark. It brings other kinds of pressures but it’s something I’ve kind of been used to growing up. We have a bit more a spotlight here being the only Welsh team. We’ve lost some good players so it’s even more important that we step-up. Age is just a number.”

Little time has been wasted by Maynard in laying down the gauntlet for the county’s young batsmen, including Donald, to do better, to demand more of themselves. Known as one of the cleanest strikers on the county circuit, Donald is a player capable of destroying opposition attacks but at times last year that resulted in some soft dismissals as he attempted one shot too many, too soon and those inconsistent returns were the result.

In an interview with Gamorgan’s website a few weeks ago, Maynard said of Donald: “If he starts respecting the game and the opposition bowlers and realising that he can’t just go out and play a one-day innings or T20 innings every single time he goes out to bat then in four-day cricket he could fly, he really could.”

Is that fair? “It’s something I’ve worked hard on this winter to try and improve and hopefully that will come to the fore in the first few Championship games,” Donald says. “Yes, trying to play within your natural game and instincts but it’s not an excuse to go out and reckless. It’s trying to find that balance.

“As a team, we’ve sat down and discussed that we need to face more balls. That’s red ball cricket: the more balls you face the more runs you’ll get. There’s definitely a focus on getting in first and then expanding from there. It’s not an excuse if you’re an attacking player to slash at balls from the get-go. You need to have some structure about it.”

More resilience, a tougher attitude, a more uncompromising approach, players taking more responsibility. Glamorgan need to show far more of all those qualities this season in the Championship under the new captaincy of fast-bowler Michael Hogan if they are to improve on their seventh placed finish in Division Two last year with seven defeats from 14 matches telling the tale of an inconsistent red-ball season.

“We want to be a bit harder to beat, a tougher team to crack,” adds Donald. “We’ve got the skill and the talent to turn up and win games from nowhere, boss teams. We’ve won some brilliant games in the last few years and had some brilliant chases. But seven losses is not going to get you anywhere in the Championship. At home, we want to build it as a bit more of a fortress. We’ve got the talent and the skill to win us games but we need to be a bit more consistent day-in and day-out.”

Head coach Robert Croft and Chief Executive Hugh Morris want to achieve improved Championship performances with a core of homegrown, Welsh players and have made that a priority for this season. Croft has already stated that homegrown players will be given their head in the four-day game after a number of seasons when Glamorgan’s red ball team has been dominated by a myriad of overseas, Kolpak and EU passport holding players.

When the county last won the Championship in 1997, Morris, Maynard, opener Steve James and Croft were the homegrown stars in a largely Welsh team although Pakistani fast-bowler Waqar Younis was also a key figure. The current squad has a similarly strong Welsh element hoping to have their own success and Donald is the poster boy, keenly aware of the wider responsibilities the county has to cricket in Wales.

“We talk about it a lot,” Donald says of the Welsh culture. “We are very privileged to be the only Welsh team and we kind of see it as the Welsh cricket team playing in the County Championship if you like. It’s unique which brings its own pressures but also the extra fan base, people want you to do well. As a group of Welsh youngsters we are getting the chance right now to stand up and make the country proud.

“It’s about trying to bring in crowds, to entertain and to some extent make sure cricket is our summer sport again in the bigger scheme of things. We are very fortunate to be here and I’ve grown up with a lot of these guys through all the age-groups. To be able to take that into the first team and be able to hopefully make our mark is a quite exciting thing.”

Although full international recognition is probably a way off yet, at least in the Test arena, if the hard work of the off-season pays dividends for Donald, he will certainly move up the pecking order. Not that he is in any rush, realising that there is still a lot of learning to be done, a lot of runs to be scored. A spot on the Lions programme at the end of the season is his main goal.

“These years are formative years and they’re very important,” he says. “There is a stigma in sport that once you get to a certain age, you’re too old but it’s trying to make the most of the younger years while you can. The quicker you’re producing the goods, the better for the county and yourself. Trying to lead this young batting line-up this year is a great honour. It’s about putting the runs on the board. It really is as simple as that.”

Quoted from Cricbuzz