Ireland go into Tuesday’s World Cup clash against South Africa in Canberra faced with a question that even fanciful Test nations have struggled to find an answer for.
How does one tame the rampaging AB de Villiers before he destroys the rivals’ bowling attack, dents their morale and leaves them dumbstruck by what just hit them?
The West Indies once more suffered at the hands of the South African captain who, despite a stomach illness, smashed an audacious 162 off 66 balls with 17 boundaries and eight sixes in Sydney on Friday to fashion a 257-run win.
It was against the same team that de Villers smashed the fastest one-day century off 31 balls at home in January, prompting former Australian dasher Adam Gilchrist to call him the “most valuable cricketer on the planet.”
The Proteas, one of the pre-tournament favourites, needed the brutal attack by their 31-year-old captain to steady the ship after they were stunned by India by 130 runs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground a week ago.
De Villiers was run out for 30 in that match by a brilliant throw from the deep by Mohit Sharma, which must make Ireland wonder if that is the only way to see the back of him.
But the proud Irish, whose cricket has developed rapidly under their West Indies coach Phil Simmons, will look to run the mighty Proteas closely after winning their first two games in the tournament.
Ireland chased down a challenging West Indies total of 304-7 at Nelson with four wickets and 25 balls to spare on the back of half-centuries from Paul Stirling (92), Ed Joyce (84) and Niall O’Brien (79 not out).
Simmons, the former West Indies opening batsman, insisted the result was not an upset because his team was now capable of matching skills with the more established teams.
“It excited me the way we played against the West Indies,” said Simmons. “They played four fast bowlers, thinking we would not be able to cope with the speed. It’s the best I’ve seen the team play and it augurs well for the future.”
Ireland overcame wayward bowling in their next game in Brisbane to allow the United Arab Emirates to pile up 278-9, but the batsman kept their nerve to win in the final over with the ninth-wicket pair at the crease.
If other results go their way, even one win from their four remaining games against South Africa, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe could see Ireland qualify for the quarter-finals.
However, past records favour South Africa against the Irish, who progressed from the first round in their inaugural appearance at the World Cup in 2007 but were knocked out in the group stages four years later.
Ireland have lost all three one-day internationals against South Africa so far. In their last meeting at the 2011 World Cup at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, the Proteas thumped them by 131 runs.
Still, the Irish can be expected to blast away at the batting friendly Manuka Oval wicket where West Indies opener Chris Gayle hammered a World Cup record score of 215 against Zimbabwe last week.
South Africa’s only worry will be the underwhelming form of pace spearhead Dale Steyn, who has claimed just three wickets in the first three games at a high average of 47.66.
With de Villiers’ team almost certain to qualify for the knock-out rounds, Steyn will be needed to be at his best if South Africa are to have a shot at their maiden World Cup title.
An unlikely bowling hero for the Proteas is leg-spinner Imran Tahir, whose nine wickets so far is only behind the New Zealand seam duo of Tim Southee (13) and Trent Boult (10) in the leading bowlers’ list.
Photo Credits : AFP