South Africa’s assistant coach Adrian Birrell will hope he is not a prophet.
If he is, what he said yesterday about his team’s opponents in their World Cup match in Canberra starting at 5.30am (SA time) tomorrow will bite him in the backside. “Every World Cup, they seem to beat a full member team,” Birrell, of Port Elizabeth, said.
“They beat Pakistan, tied with Zimbabwe and beat Bangladesh in 2007. In 2011, they had that famous win against England. In this World Cup, they’ve already beaten West Indies.”
Ireland are the opponents Birrell spoke about. He was their coach at the 2007 World Cup, so there has been no mention of the M-word in the SA camp since the focus moved to the Irish after the rousing 257-run win over the Windies in Sydney on Friday. Minnows? Not Ireland.
“They bat deep and they know how to chase targets,” Birrell said. “Four out of the top 10 World Cup chases are Ireland chases, three of them over 300 – and two of them against full member teams.”
That was the 329-7 they made to beat England four years ago and the 307-6 they made against West Indies on February 16. South Africa, too, know the fighting qualities of the Irish – they stumbled to 117-5 against them in Kolkata in 2011 before JP Duminy and Colin Ingram shared a stand of 87.
“We’re fully aware of what they can do,” Birrell said. “I’m probably more aware than most, so we’ll be prepared.”
Not that Vernon Philander and JP Duminy are likely to feature much in that preparation, nor indeed tomorrow’s match. “JP and Vernon are struggling, and probably not available for this [game],” Birrell said. “We’re trying to make sure they’re available for the next match.”
Philander limped off after bowling four overs against India in Melbourne on February 22. Duminy strained his side in the same match. Both were left out for the game against the Windies.
However, Ireland can be sure they will have to deal with AB de Villiers, who plundered an undefeated 162 off the Windies – an innings equal parts brilliance, belligerence and ballet.
“He is in a rich vein of form, but he is very often in a rich vein of form,” Birrell said. “His stats in the last year have been phenomenal, but we’re not a one-player team.
“There are other seriously good players, so we’re hoping for a team performance. Whoever’s chance it is to do the business, he’s got to take that chance. In the last match it was AB.
“He can do that to any attack, not only Ireland’s. I don’t know if there’s an attack in the world that can contain AB. It’s a matter of getting him out, and if you can’t get him out he’s going to hurt you.”
De Villiers’ genius is already a fact, so that was not prophesy. But Birrell will not want to see his fears come true that Ireland will miss out when the field for the 2019 World Cup is narrowed from the current 14 teams to 10.
“It’s definitely not fair. They’ve continued to knock down the door and they keep on getting shut out. So they are angry and I understand that.
“That’s a driving factor and something which makes them play even harder to prove the full member teams wrong.”
Empathy and all, Birrell will not want Ireland to do that tomorrow.