FOR as long as cricket-minded South Africans can remember, their team’s match against India in Melbourne on Sunday has marked where and when push will come to shove in the group stage of the World Cup. After mad Monday, that is no longer the case.
Instead, Tuesday, March 3, when they play Ireland in Canberra, looms as the make-or-break day for SA’s campaign. That is in the wake of the fighting Irish’s threat status being upgraded to neon green in Nelson on Monday when they chased down 305 in 45.5 overs to beat West Indies by four wickets.
For Ireland, it was a case of another World Cup, another giant slain. In 2007, they sent Pakistan home. In 2011, they beat England.
South Africans will note that Ireland did not shock any more big teams in those tournaments. Their other victories were achieved over Bangladesh and the Netherlands, while they tied with Zimbabwe.
So, the revenge of the minnows would seem to be sporadic and limited.
But best you do not say that kind of thing around Irish captain William Porterfield. “I actually hate the term upset,” Porterfield said. “I don’t see why a team has to be an associate and a team has to be a full member. Sure, you’re ranked or whatever. But it’s not like that in any other sport, so I don’t see why it has to be like that in ours.
“I don’t see it as an upset. We prepared to come into this game to win. It’s where we’re at. We’re looking to pick up two points in every game, and as long as we’re doing the right things then we’re happy.”
You would not expect an Irishman to say anything else. And Londonderry-born Porterfield is a proper Paddy, as were 10 of Monday’s XI.
The exception was allrounder Max Sorenson, who hails from Johannesburg and played for Northerns with Faf du Plessis and Farhaan Behardien in a 50-over match against an ICC Winter Training Camp XI that included Porterfield and Kevin O’Brien in Pretoria in November 2006. But by then he had played 35 games for Holmesdale in the Kent first and second divisions.
That Sorenson was the sole impostor represents progress for the Irish. The side who beat Pakistan in 2007 had three Australians and a South African – Ant Botha – while the team who won against the English included a pair of Aussies.
But, in a sport that is becoming increasingly polarised between the haves, the have-somethings and the have-nots, countries in which the game is smaller are being pushed out of the global spotlight.
Unlike the truly world game of soccer, at its highest levels cricket discourages diversity because difference does not devolve into dollars.
The 2019 World Cup, for instance, will feature England as the hosts and the top seven other teams as they stand in the rankings on September 30, 2017.
Those rankings will include all 10 full members of the ICC as well as Afghanistan and Ireland. Everyone else will battle it out for the remaining two places.
For teams like SA, victory is an optional extra: regardless of their results, they will earn big money from sponsors, and the game in the country will prosper. But, for teams like Ireland, winning is everything. Especially against teams like South Africa.