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Ireland make South Africa work for victory
Prem Panicker | April 04, 2007 03:25 IST
Last Updated: April 04, 2007 03:36 IST
There was a time when cricket was about team A going in and scoring X runs in Y overs, and Team B then going in and scoring X+1 in Y overs.
Apparently not any more: when the truncated Ireland innings ended, the score read 152/8 off the allotted 35 overs in a rain truncated match. Five minutes later, when the South African chase began, the target was 160 to win in 35 overs.
I am sure there is an explanation: something on the lines of, the Irish began their innings thinking they were playing the full 50, then after 9.2 overs and two rain delays of varying lengths they were told they only had 35 overs, so in the interest of fairness (no, I think it is something about resources and how you use them).
Here's what I don't get though, and I didn't get it the other day during the Australia-Bangladesh clash either, which became a trial version of the Twentytwo22 format: There is a reserve day for each game this WC. Given that, what was wrong with playing 50 overs today, and completing the game tomorrow?
You could say it doesn't matter - does it make a difference if Ireland is defeated in 35 overs or 50, anyway? - but the point is not about this game; the thing is that a precedent is now in place, so what happens if say rain hits one of the semifinals?
Say Australia and South Africa are playing, rain interrupts - and the ICC reduces it to a 20-over hit-a-thon - what then? It would be fine if there were no reserve day, but given that the provision exists, why this travesty?
Anyway, sufficient unto the day. Graeme Smith won the toss and opted to field first. Ireland battled a couple of early strikes by Shaun Pollock - who must have been some relieved at not being targeted by opposition batsmen early on (He has gone for 175 in 41 overs for four wickets, two of them in this game) - and the rains, then recovered through some combative middle order batting by the likes of Eoin Morgan, Niall O'Brien, Andrew White and a late cameo by Langford-Smith, managed a creditable 152/8 in the allotted 35 overs.
The problem with associate nations - `minnows', if you will - is not, judging by the evidence, a lack of skill sets: the likes of O'Brien, White and Morgan shaped quite well at the crease. Where they seem to lack is an appreciation of the ebbs and flows of the game, the need to recast strategy as the game changes.
It was evident the other day, when Bangladesh suddenly faced a 22 over game and failed to adjust their play to the reduced format; it showed today, too, when the Irish innings progressed in fits and starts, barely gaining momentum before imploding (White, Botha, McCallan and Mooney all went in the space of 17 deliveries, for the addition of 7 runs, to the Hall-Langeveldt combination.
The Irish clearly couldn't figure out how to play the Duckworth Lewis game, either: wickets in hand at the end would add runs to the target, but you also needed to take risks to put runs on the board.
The obvious solution is to get more matches to play, in between World Cups, but that is a need the ICC hasn't done much to address.
Coming to the game in question, it didn't help that the conditions at the Providence Stadium helped seam and swing - particularly the type provided by the slower members of the Proteas attack, such as Pollock initially, and Charl Langeveldt and Andrew Hall in the middle and towards the end.
The tall Boyd Rankin struck an early blow when he had AB de Villiers cracking a wide one outside off to Porterfield at point, and bowled with enough skill to trouble Smith a few times. Jacques Kallis, though, seemed in one of his moods: his driving, square and through the covers, was silken from the get go, and once Smith got over his early yips, he too settled down to bat with his usual fluidity.
It was almost predictable: Kallis made much of the early running, but once Smith got his eye in, he first climbed into Boyd, cracking him for two fours in the ninth over, then turned on Mooney in the 10th and took a couple of boundaries off him too, thank you very much. By the end of 10 overs, the run rate was a healthy 6.4, the ask had been reduced to 3.88 and as far as the match was concerned, `contest' was already a misnomer.
Just when you thought SA were set to inflict a 9-wicket win, and Smith to create a record with a fifth successive half century in World Cups, Trent Johnson produced a moment of sheer magic. Smith wound up and blasted him back down the track; Johnson, going left on the follow through, checked, reversed direction, bent double in a flash and plucked the hit, one-handed, an inch and a bit above the turf.
Botha and Johnston kept the bowling on nice tight lines - and Herschelle Gibbs probably saw it as an infringement of his majesty that he was being made to work for runs. Rankin came back, Gibbs swatted at him, and picked out midwicket clean as a whistle, to give Irish fans something to cheer about (75 still needed in 18.3 with seven wickets in hand - cue mild panic?)
It was interesting to see that even the captain of an associate nation, like Ireland, had enough cricketing nous (compare with those closer to home) to put two slips and a gully in place before Ashwell Prince had even taken guard.
The Irish could really have created a flutter when, in the 19th, Kallis drove the ball low and hard back down the track, and Rankin on the follow through got his hands down in time, but couldn't hang on (40/49 Kallis, 94/3 SA). And as if to make sure everyone noticed the tide turning, Kallis tried to paddle McCallan and Johnston, of all people, failed to react in time from a short fine leg - and another catch went down.
Once over those hiccups, Kallis settled down again (to wonder if Ireland could have triggered full fledged panic had those chances stuck is now moot) and with an increasingly assured Ashwell Prince, stroked South Africa to a comfortable seven wicket win.
If you must quibble, you could say that the Proteas took way more overs than they should have - but the bowling was tight, the fielding (two dropped chances apart) good, and South Africa didn't need to do something really silly, and pay a price.
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