Not many South Africans may have made it to Guyana for the cricket but god knows there have been enough of them addressing press conferences. There were three of them in one hour this afternoon, and the least somebody could have done is got a braai going, seeing how there is not a morsel of food to be found at the National Stadium on non-match days anyway.
With most of the Super Eights clashes arousing about as much anticipation as an invitation to watch cows cud, it is what preview days at this World Cup have been increasingly reduced to, cute symmetries and connections, such as, for example, how the teams for Tuesday’s encounter both have South African coaches and, what’s more, the two have been friends.
Yet if there is a degree of mutual admiration between Mickey Arthur and Adrian Birrell, the Ireland coach, it is borne out of professional achievement. When Arthur talks of Birrell and Ireland, he could almost be describing his own team.
“I think what makes them a tough side,” he said, “is that the play for each other. They have an incredible team ethic, and that again is credit to AB (Adrian Birrell). As coaches you all strive to go in the right direction with a good work ethic and a sound structure and AB’s got it right with them. They play with an incredible amount of passion and they play for each other and in tight games that’s the key as we saw against Pakistan and Zimbabwe when they came from virtually the dead to tie that game.”
Birrell himself remembered the transition as he moved from a professional background as a provincial coach in into an amateur setup. “The fixture list looked like Denmark, Free Foresters, Duchess of Norfolk, MCC… you know. Fortunately we’ve made some progress since. Now our itinerary looks like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.”
Having been reduced to 91 for 8 in a warm-up match in Trinidad a month ago, the South Africans are well aware of the progress. It has also meant some revision of homework plans.
“We had to take the Pakistan footage out and put the Irish footage in,” said Arthur. “There are two batters in our mind that are crucial to the way they play, and two bowlers. We’ve singled out probably four of their players for extra attention.” Three of those are certain to be the fast bowler Boyd Rankin, the middle-order keeper-batsman Niall O’Brien, and the opener Jeremy Bray.
It remains to be seen whether Bray, left-handed, like his opening partner William Porterfield, will take to Shaun Pollock as have as the Australian and Sri Lankan lefties have done over the past fortnight. While nagging last-hurrah seamers such as Glenn McGrath and Chaminda Vaas have been choking opposition to the figure of 13 and 16 runs per wicket, Pollock has averaged 79 for two wickets in four matches. Neither of those wickets came against Australia, where he went for 83 in 10 overs, or Sri Lanka when in a low-scoring match he conceded 46 from eight overs, and 32 in his opening spell of four.
Once teams would have been happy to play out a bowler like Pollock for none for 35, suggested Arthur, but times have changed. “I think good teams target the opposition, to be the best in the world you have to target the opposition strengths and that’s what teams are doing with Pollock.”
“Most teams that you come up against now have a lefthander at the top of the order. We’ve put a lot more thought into bowling to a lefthander after what’s happened with (Matthew) Hayden and (Sanath) Jayasuriya. But Polly’s an unbelievable performer. After two games where he’s been hit a bit I can promise you he’s raring to go tomorrow. He’s going to come back hard.”
“This is the business end of the competition, you can’t afford any slip up. Our preparation, our mental training is the same it would have been for any other game of the Super Eights.”
For Ireland it is another opportunity to justify their place in this leg of the competition, though it has all gotten quite tiresome for Birrell. “We deserve a little bit of credit. We have got a lot of credit from the cricketers’ point of view. It is the media that set on us being party poopers. But if you look at in the bigger scheme of things, the achievements of Bangladesh and Ireland are very good for the game.”
South Africa (likely) Graeme Smith (c ), AB de Villiers, Jaques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs, Mark Boucher (wk), Shaun Pollock, Justin Kemp, Andrew Hall, Robin Peterson, Makhaya Ntini, Charl Langeveldt
Ireland (likely) William Porterfield, Jeremy Bray, Eoin Morgan, Niall O’ Brien (wk), Andre Botha, Kevin O’ Brien, Trent Johnston (c), Andrew White, Kyle Mccallan, Dave Langford-Smith, Boyd Rankin
Source:Cricket WorldcupMore on:Adrian Birrell, Australia, coach, Ireland, Mickey Arthur, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Super Eights, World Cup
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