South Africa eye win over Ireland to book QF berth
Kolkata: On a high after snatching a moral-boosting three-wicket victory over India, South Africa will now look to seal their quarter-final berth when they take on a wobbly Ireland in their penultimate group B World Cup clash at the renovated Eden Gardens here on Tuesday.
The South Africans have some injury concerns ahead of the game with A B de Villiers down with a thigh strain and it remains to be seen whether the in-form batsman takes the field.
Chasing 297, South Africa top and middle-order fumbled but Faf du Plessis and Robin Peterson down the order showed nerves of steel to shed their chokers tag for a thrilling three-wicket win in their previous match against India.
After racing to 267 for one in the 40th over, India lost nine wickets for just 29 runs in an embarrassing way with pacer Dale Steyn returning with a five-wicket burst to skittle out the hosts inside 49 overs.
The victory also gains significance because it brought their campaign back on track after their dramatic six-wicket loss to England in Chennai.
It was more special for the Proteas who had to make it possible despite losing out on their most successful bowler Imran Tahir.
The leg-spinner having sustained a fractured thumb is ruled out for 10 days and is certain to miss the match against Ireland but that should not pose a big problem for South Africa with their attack boasting of Steyn, Morne Morkel while Johan Botha will lead the spin attack.
Smith, who had scored an unbeaten 134 to a 10-wicket win over India in their last ODI at Eden Gardens, would look to continue his fine form on the strip that promises to be batsmen-friendly.
There is a hint of grass on the Eden 22-yard but curator Probir Mukherjee promised it would assist the batsmen even as he pointed out that there has not been much dew here since last few days.
The wicket that will be used tomorrow will be the same that had produced 632 runs and only nine wickets in a match that saw India beat Sri Lanka by seven wicket in its last ODI on 2009 Christmas Eve.
Smith and company will look to go for the final kill but at the same time they will be wary of the Irish who have showed their capabilities of producing upsets.
The South African skipper Graeme Smith was highly impressed with the Irish team after they had stunned the Englishmen in Bangalore.
"The good thing for us now is that we play a couple of games close together before the quarterfinals," Smith said.
"We`ve got an opportunity now with a game every three or four days to really build up some momentum which is something that is important for us," he said.
But after having pulled off the first upset of the World Cup, the Irish outfit seemed to have lost their way suffering two consecutive losses to India and the West Indies to put their campaign in jeopardy.
The Irish team will once again have to do something miraculous against the mighty South Africans as they will have to win their remainder matches — the last being against the Netherlands (March 18) — to remain in contention for a last eight berth.
Their so-called strong batting order that boasts of skipper William Porterfield, veteran Ed Joyce and the famous O`Brien brothers — Kevin and Niall — have been a picture of inconsistency.
The bowling department of pacers Boyd Rankin and Alex Cusack and the spin duo of Paul Stirling and George Dockrell too has struggled after missing out on their main strike bowler Trent Johnston in two matches in a row.
Johnston, who took two wickets during their loss to India in Bangalore before sustaining a bruised knee that ruled him out of the game, is likely to be drafted into the side as a desperate measures by the team thinktank.
"I`ll be playing at Eden Gardens, that`s for sure," former captain Johnston, who did not bowl at the nets, tweeted yesterday.
In the likelihood of Johnston`s inclusion, their South African-born allrounder Andre Botha seems certain to sit out.
Botha hopes that South Africa will relax a bit after the Nagpur humdinger something that will give them a fine chance to go all out.
"The way we are seeing it was that they still have to travel here after a big win, so hopefully they might just relax a bit and that will give us a big advantage.
"I think we`ve fallen short in a few games, now we have to win and we might play with a bit more freedom, like we used to and take away that last bit of pressure to get over the line," Botha, who was born in Johannesburg before coming to play cricket in Ireland at 18, said.
Both the teams will also have to fight out the rising heat and humid index in the Eastern metropolis with the temperature set to be in the 30s.
In the news for all the wrong reasons, the historic Eden Gardens will thus get to host its first match in the ongoing World Cup after losing out on the marquee India vs England clash as the International Cricket Council had ruled that the stadium was not ready for the February 27 encounter.
Having failed to host an India match, the huge Eden Gardens may not generate a huge interest among the spectators for the World Cup fixture but certainly there will not be any lack of motivation for the Graeme Smith`s men after their morale-boosting win over India in Nagpur.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (c), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Morne van Wyk (wk), Johan Botha, Robin Peterson, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Imran Tahir and Colin Ingram.
Ireland: William Porterfield (c), Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Niall O`Brien (wk), Gary Wilson, Kevin O`Brien, Alex Cusack, John Mooney, Andre Botha, George Dockrell, Boyd Rankin, Trent Johnston, Albert van der Merwe, Andrew White and Nigel Jones.
Start of play: 2.30pm (IST).