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Ireland take on the might of South Africa in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Ireland take on the might of South Africa in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Image: PHOTOSPORT/Tertius Pickard/INPHO

Ireland's biggest challenge awaits but 'no fear' mentality needed against South Africa

Phil Simmons’ side continue their World Cup campaign tonight.
Mar 3rd 2015, 12:08 AM 4,906 5

FOR IRELAND, THE opening two weeks of this World Cup couldn’t have gone any better as they sit, alongside co-hosts New Zealand and defending champions India, as the only unbeaten sides.

Having opened their campaign with wins against West Indies and UAE, Phil Simmons’ side have put themselves in a good position to be one of the four sides to advance from Pool B.

But, after a nine-day gap between their first and second fixture, Ireland now play their four remaining games in the space of 12 days, starting tonight [3.30am Irish time] against one of the pre-tournament favourites, South Africa.

Few expect Ireland to have enough in their armoury to gun down one of cricket’s heavyweights but with the onus on the Proteas to clear a path for their own advancement, this is the type of fixture the Boys in Green relish.

Certainly, South Africa are not taking William Porterfield and his team mates lightly.

Adi Birrell, the former Ireland coach who is now part of the South African back room staff, has admitted their star-studded side are wary of an opposition with a propensity to punch above their weight.

“They bat deep and they know how to chase targets,” he 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.

“We’re fully aware of what they can do. I’m probably more aware than most, so we’ll be prepared.”

Birrell is widely acknowledged as the instrumental figure in Ireland’s cricketing renaissance. The 54-year-old guided Ireland to their first World Cup in 2007 and oversaw the indelible victory over Pakistan during that campaign.

William Porterfield The Irish squad trained at the ground on Monday ahead of their stiffest test in this World Cup Source: Barry Chambers/INPHO

A lot has changed, however, since Birrell left the head coach role after that tournament. Although Ireland head into Tuesday’s fixture as ‘underdogs’, it is more because of the calibre of opposition rather than their own standing or form.

With four points from four, Ireland are sitting pretty but the biggest challenges are still to come. South Africa, who are currently third in the ODI rankings, certainly provide that.

Their bowling attack, spearheaded by the effervescent Dale Steyn, is as relentless and overpowering as they come while their batting stocks are as equally destructive.

Much of the pre-match attention has centered around the irrepressible AB de Villiers after he plundered 162 off 66 deliveries during South Africa’s 262-run demolition of West Indies on Friday.

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It’s only natural for Ireland to plan around de Villiers, given his form and ability to single-handedly dismantle any bowling attack in world cricket, but William Porterfield has reiterated his side need to go out and play without fear at the Manuka Oval.

Focusing on one player is a dangerous tactic, particularly when the opposition have a conveyor belt of accomplished, and brutal, operators in their ranks.

“It obviously will be a challenge,” Porterfield said on the eve of the game.

“You can sit all day and talk about him [De Villiers]…you’ve got to stick on with your best ball and how you go about things.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or change how you play against one player. He’s obviously a special talent, but each bowler’s got their own skills and they’ve been doing it for a number of years. They’ve got to back themselves.”

Peter Johnston inspects the pitch The toss will be crucial in Canberra with the side batting first in the last six ODIs there going onto win the game Source: Barry Chambers/INPHO

Ireland trained in Canberra on Monday with no injury concerns to report. The management have a full deck to choose from but have a selection dilemma once again with regards to the make-up of the bowling attack.

Max Sorensen has struggled in the opening two games and a repeat of his performances against West Indies and UAE would only provide de Villiers and co with cannon fodder.

Andy McBrine could come back into the picture but fast-bowler Craig Young is also pushing for inclusion after impressing during the build-up to the tournament.

Regardless of who plays, Ireland will need to execute their plans to perfection.

“It’s all about playing smart cricket,” Porterfield added. “I don’t think the mindset has changed. I think if you get any Irish‑born team, they’ve got that belief and they’ve got it on the pitch and they’re going to scrap right to the last minute.

“I don’t think you should be going out there to take part really if you’re not going out there to win. Each game we go out there, we go out there to prepare and we go out there to win, and tomorrow is no different.”

Results over the past week have muddied the qualification waters, however it’s still too early to be pre-empting anything but Ireland are likely to need two more wins in order to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Should they pick-up one of them on Tuesday, well, that would really disrupt the established order. 

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