The sixth instalment in our new series where we compare two legendary cricketers from the same generation. Rather than necessarily settle the debate on who is ‘better’, this series attempts to illustrate who had a greater say in dictating his country’s cricketing fortunes. Along the way, you may also find a few facets of these players that are not necessarily discussed in conventional media.

Since readmission, South Africa have often left audiences in awe of their quicks. Today, we cast the spotlight on two of their legendary speed merchants.


Allan Donald vs Shaun Pollock

 A comparison of pace bowlers in Test cricket




Allan Donald

Shaun Pollock

Maximum or

Highest (100%)

Number of Tests 72 108 Courtney Walsh (132)
Wickets Taken 330 421 Glenn McGrath (563)
Bowling Average 22.25 23.11 Malcolm Marshall (20.94)
Percentage of team wickets taken 29% 24% Richard Hadlee (38.25)
Bowling Impact 73 63 Dennis Lillee
Top-Middle Order Wicket Impact 92 71 Dennis Lillee
Economy Impact 25 55 Glenn McGrath
Bowling Impact in wins (min. 20 Tests) 63 52 Richard Hadlee
Impact at Home (min. 25 Tests) 93 75 Craig McDermott
Impact Away (min. 20 Tests) 54 46 Dennis Lillee
Impact in Subcontinent (min. 10 Tests) 76 73 Courtney Walsh
Impact in Aus/SA (min. 10 Tests) 65 53 Alan Davidson
Impact in Eng/NZ (min. 10 Tests) 61 40 Dennis Lillee
Failure Rate (min. 50 Tests) 20% 24% Joel Garner (12%)
Number of Series-Defining performances 3 (once every 24 Tests) 5 (once every 22 Tests) Richard Hadlee and Dale Steyn (7)
Number of high impact performances 17 (once every 4 Tests) 18 (once every 6 Tests) Glenn McGrath (32)
Most dominant period in career November 1995 – December 1998 November 2001 – January 2005 n/a
Number of years as highest impact bowler 0 0 Richard Hadlee – 4

(1980, 1984, 1985, 1987)

Highest impact bowler in a match 17 16 Glenn McGrath

(31 in 124 Tests)

Highest impact bowler in a series 8 (in 24 Test series) 3 (in 40 Test series) Richard Hadlee

(10 in 33 Test series)

1) All parameters from ‘ Bowling Impact ’ till ‘Impact in Eng/NZ’ are expressed on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the maximum for any player in Test history in that parameter. A player’s impact in a particular parameter is then expressed as a percentage of it.
Example: Glenn McGrath has the highest Economy Impact among pace bowlers in Test cricket history. So he denotes 100 for that parameter. Allan Donald’s and Shaun Pollock’s Economy Impact are then expressed as a percentage of McGrath’s Economy Impact .
2) From ‘Bowling Average’ till ‘ Economy Impact ’, a minimum of 50 matches is considered as qualification. For all other parameters, the qualification is mentioned alongside.
3) Only pace bowlers have been considered for this comparison.



Allan Donald played 36 Tests fewer than Shaun Pollock, who also went on to take 91 more wickets. Yet, Donald remains the higher impact bowler of the two.

Pollock was highly restrictive. As it so happens, he has the fourth-highest Economy Impact for a pacer in the history of Test cricket (min. 50 Tests) behind Glenn McGrath, Curtly Ambrose and Joel Garner.

Donald, however, was the strike bowler for South Africa. Their force majeure. He claimed a higher percentage of team wickets overall, and his ability to account for the top/middle-order was exemplary. In fact, only Muralitharan and Dennis Lillee have dismissed a higher proportion of top/middle-order batsmen than Donald in Test cricket history.

Donald was superior in most parameters. His impact was higher both at home, and away. That he could hit the deck and swing the ball at pace meant he performed better than Pollock in varying conditions across the world. Consequently, he was also more consistent (lower failure rate).

Over their respective careers, Pollock registered two more series-defining performances than Donald. He also had one more high impact performance than his senior partner. That said, Donald’s frequency of producing high impact performances was better.

Donald and Pollock were, respectively, the highest and second-highest impact bowlers in South Africa’s Test history (min. 50 Tests) until a certain Dale Steyn usurped them both.


Until the emergence of Shaun Pollock, whose debut was a good three-and-a-half years after his own, Allan Donald was the linchpin of the South African bowling attack and didn’t have to share his impact with others. His role was fundamental to his team’s fortunes following their readmission. Pollock, on the other hand, came into a South African team that had already made its mark and had to share impact throughout his career – first with Donald, then with the likes of Makhaya Ntini and later, to a small extent, Steyn.


Karthik Swaminathan
Illustrations: Vasim Maner