Walloped? Perhaps. Trounced? Probably. Defeated? No Nay Never. In the words of the Blarney Army at the end of last night’s match against South Africa ‘You’ll never beat the Irish!’
Sure we were outclassed at Manuka Oval in Canberra against one of the tournament favourites but it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. This is a class South African squad all the way from 1 to 11. With Amla, Du Plessis & De Villiers leading the way with the bat and Steyn, Morkel & Abbott with the bowl, this side will taking some beating at the business end of the World Cup. As the Blarney Army said “See you in the Final”. I just hope they make it!
Blarney Army preparation for the match was disrupted with news a few hours before play that the team doctor, aka Lil Larry’s mum, ruled Lil Larry out due to a bout of gastro that he picked up whilst travelling to Canberra. With Kylie not being the best plane passenger in the world, we have elected to drive to a few games and see a bit of the Australian countryside. On Monday afternoon we drove up from Melbourne and stayed at Gundagai – a place made famous by Slim Dusty’s song of a Dog on a Tuckerbox five miles from there. Unfortunately all was going well til Lil Larry started to feel ill. The poor little fella has been struggling since and valiantly came out of his sick bed and joined the Blarney Army for a few hours in the mid-afternoon. Trooper. He is slowly recovering but is at best a 50/50 proposition for the crucial Hobart match against Zimbabwe on Saturday.
Canberra is a beautiful city and one of the best laid out but it also renowned for being extremely quiet. Manuka Oval would have been one of the toughest gigs that I have ‘played’ at. The crowd were just so quiet that I honestly thought I was in the public gallery for a sitting of Parliament House. It took awhile to rev them up but they eventually shook the conservative Canberrian personality and joined in the fun. By my estimates the Irish in the 8,800-strong crowd outnumbered the South Africans by fifteen to one. The Associates have brought so much to this World Cup already so it will be a shame that the 2019 version is being reduced to ten teams. It really is a shame that
Speaking of politics, the crowd gave South African speedster Kyle Abbott made a few classic one-liners in reference to his Australian PM namesake, Tony Abbott. The Army said that he is the most liked Abbott in Canberra and ‘to look out for Malcolm (Turnbull) lurking behind his back’. We also told our lads to watch out for his inswing bowler given ‘Abbott’s tendency to swing to the right’. Despite media reports, the crowd were well behaved and I can vouch that no racial abuse was heard by the bay nor security guards around Imran Tahir. We did hear him being reminded of his 0 for 260 at the Adelaide Oval a few years ago against the Aussies – to this date the worst bowling figures ever in Test match cricket. After the security said there was no case to answer for Tahir’s fabricated racial allegation, the crowd also reminded him at the end of his wicketless ten over spell that not only couldn’t he get out our batsmen but he couldn’t get our supporters out either!
A few weeks ago I was having recurring nightmares about Chris Gayle putting on a show against us in Nelson. We escaped that one with Zimbabwe feeling the full brunt of his force in a subsequent match when he blasted 215. I was hoping the same luck would occur with AB De Villiers after scored a majestic 162 off just 66 balls against the Windies last Friday at the SCG. The strategy that the Blarney Army devised involved keeping the two South African openers in for the full 50 overs and denying AB any chance at all to score runs … simple! The plan was being meticulously carried out by Ireland as they only took one South African wicket in the first 40 overs and hence denying AB the opportunity to post a huge score. Great in theory but we didn’t count on Hashim Amla dominating the way he did. We probably should have known better as he is the fastest man to 20 ODI centuries (in just 108 innings compared to Virat Kohli’s 133). 159 by him and a century at the other end by Faf Du Plessis effectively put the game beyond reach for us. Well played South Africa. Simply too good on the day. As ridiculous as it may sound when a side posts 411 against you, their third 400+ score in the past month, we thought that the Irish were 89 runs ahead because everyone was telling us in the lead-up that they were going to post 500.
The final losing margin was enhanced with our Irish being on the wrong side of the green all day. From a number of French cuts by the South Africans going to the boundary and then Amla’s armpit catch of Niall O’Brien which deflected from the keeper’s gloves, we just couldn’t take a break. The writing was on the wall for us early in our chase, losing five quick wickets with just 48 on the board til ‘Waltzing Balbirnie’ and Kev O’Brien steadied the ship and took us to a more respectable score. But that did not deter the Blarney Army who were full of voice and wit right to the very end. Probably the moment of the night for me was when we reached 206 and the Army broke out in unison with a Bon Jovi classic … “Whoooaa we’re half way there … oh oh Livin’ on a Prayer!”
After the match, a number of supporters caught up with the Irish team and the WAGS for a few drinks. The girls are simply lovely – not only in looks but personality too – and it was an honour to spend some time with them. After joining the team only this week, the presence of the girls are a great boost for the guys who no doubt would have been starting to feel a bit homesick. It was also great to see the matriarch of the WAGS, Vanessa Johnston and her family (including Ernie) at the match.
A pretty quick turnaround between matches with our next match on Saturday against Zimbabwe. Yes we faced an almighty South African storm yesterday but after every storm there is a rainbow. And at the end of every rainbow is a Pot O’ Gold. And that Pot O’ Gold is an impending quarter final berth should we topple the Zimbabweans on Saturday. It will be an evenly matched affair and I have us as slight favourites. I really do think it will come down to the last ball. Another thriller like in Jamaica in 2007, when the two sides played a tie. A huge Irish contingent is expected at Bellerive Oval given the large Irish ex-pat community down there. The weather is very similar to Irish conditions with a top of 17 degrees expected on the day with blusterly conditions courtesy of the River Derwent. Ideal for an Irish victory!
Watch out Hobart … you are about to get Blarnied! See you at the game!
I am #BackingGreen.