The Irish were confident of putting up a tough fight against the South Africans on Tuesday. In fact there were even thoughts of upsetting the South African applecart. And while Ireland were exceptional with the ball and in the field, their limitations with the bat were clearly exposed against high quality bowling. In fact, they failed to win the big moments with both the bat and ball and therein lay their undoing. After putting the South African batting under tremendous pressure thanks to some excellent bowling and claiming half their side for just over 100, Ireland had a great chance to restrict the South Africans to a below par total. However, they weren’t good enough to finish off the good work as the Proteas fought back and regained control. Still, there were in with a chance when they came out to bat. However, the partnerships never came for Ireland as they kept losing one wicket after the other and soon the match as well. In short, the South Africans were too good for the fighting Irish.
The turning point of the game came when Jean-Paul Duminy and Colin Ingram joined forces in a solid, counter attacking alliance that not only resurrected South Africa, but also put them on top. Till that point, Ireland held the upper hand distinctly. The bowlers maintained a tight line right from the start and were rewarded deservedly. Boyd Rankin, Trent Johnston and John Mooney kept things extremely tight at the start, frustrating the South African top and middle order. Even George Dockrell and Paul Stirling supported them exceedingly well as Ireland built up the pressure with some excellent fielding as well. Soon, the results were there for all too see. Even the South Africans panicked as their main men skipper Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis felt to brilliant pieces of fielding courtesy run outs. Even the persistent Hashim Amla struggled in the wake of the Irish challenge and succumbed. And, if not for the Duminy-Ingram partnership, Ireland might well have managed to pull off the upset they so desperately wanted to.
The feature of the association between Duminy and Ingram was their positive intent. No, they did not slog their way out of trouble, but ensured that the free flow of runs never stopped. They were severe on all the bowlers as they went about their rescue act. Impressively, unlike the previous batsmen, none of the two looked in any sort of trouble during their counter attacking partnership. And, they never looked like getting out as well at any point of time. By the time that they were dismissed, the South Africans had wrested back the advantage conceded earlier in the day. Former skipper Johan Botha too played his part with a pleasing cameo. The only bitter part about it all was that Duminy missed his well deserved century by just a solitary run. But, all credit to the left-hander, who went for the big shot and sacrificed his wicket for the team’s cause, leaving aside personal glory.
Once South Africa had posted a challenging total, they were always going to have the upper hand. However, Ireland still had a slim chance to surprise them if someone could come up with a Kevin O’Brien type magical knock. Unfortunately, nothing of that sort was on offer as the penetrative South African bowlers stream rolled past the Irish batting line up and, in the process, progressed into the quarter finals. If Dale Steyn made all the difference against India, it was his partner Morne Morkel turn to shine against Ireland. He claimed both the openers in quick succession with his pacy deliveries and not soon after it began, the Irish challenged had derailed.
The South Africans would also have been mighty pleased with the fact that Kallis got among the wickets. He was due for some and it came against Ireland. In the spin department, left-armer Robin Peterson impressed yet again. He is turning out to be a real asset to this South African outfit and has even managed to replace Botha as the first choice spinner thanks to his better batting abilities. Having said that, Botha too has been doing a commendable job whenever given the opportunity. In short, all seems well in the South African bowling machinery and all they need to do now is to get their act completely right with a bat. They have a faltered on a couple of occasions, but someone or the other has thankfully put their hands up and rescued them from trouble. Smith, first and foremost, needs to get among the runs. And Morne Van Wyk, while he has looked impressive, needs to register bigger scores if he going is bat up the order. The good thing is that they still have one match left against Bangladesh to put things in order. Rest all seems fine for the South Africans as they now wait to know who they play in the quarter finals.
For the Irishmen, the tournament has been a clear cut case of what might have been. In every game they had opportunities to create an upset, but they only managed to pull it off in one game, with that superb chase against England. That said, the fact that they have managed to compete in each and every game in the tournament so far is that good thing in itself. Irish cricket is at a stage where they are learning new things with every passing match. And with the kind of ability and determination they possess, they can pull off the odd upset like the one against England at Bangalore. In hindsight, the win against Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup was no fluke. Irish cricket has a long way to go, but there are no two ways about it that they are on the right track. With experience and exposure they will only get better if they keep performing with the same spirit and enthusiasm. The good news for Ireland fans is that they have one more game left to make an impression.
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