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Match Report
Richard Bullick

Ireland's dreams of World Cup quarter-final qualification came to an emphatic end as Phil Simmons' side fell to their heaviest defeat of the tournament against South Africa at Calcutta's Eden Gardens. Taking the scalp of the fancied Proteas predictably proved a bridge too far for an always game but mentally tiring team now playing with much more pressure on them than four years ago thanks to their emergence as a serious side at this level. These days, opponents are on red alert and the public are expectant. This team has carried that bigger burden bravely and admirably flown the flag for the much-maligned associate nations in this World Cup but there was always the possibility that they would run out of steam in one major match and, having beaten England, extended India and had the West Indies worried, this time they had little left to offer after South Africa had batted themselves out of trouble. This has been the only game in which Ireland have been over-run in this tournament though, unlike against Australia and Sri Lanka four years ago, this time they weren't bowled out for double figures. And although a third of Ireland's available overs went unused, at least they made more than half of the opposition's score.

But well before the end it was a lost cause and the tension had drained out of the game as South Africa's revered pacemen made immediate inroads into Ireland's top order and, helped by some self-destructing by the batsmen, wickets continued to fall against the change bowlers as Graeme Smith kept his spinners rolling for a prolonged period before recalling Morne Morkel to put the minnows out of their misery. The men in green needed to win to remain in contention for a place in the last eight and appeared to have created a real opportunity to take another big scalp when the Proteas were reduced to 117 for five in the 27th over. But a punishing partnership of 87 for the sixth wicket between JP Duminy and tournament debutant Colin Ingram got South Africa over 200 and at the interval they were in the box seat having set Ireland a similar target to what they couldn't chase down against the West Indies in Mohali last Friday. And, this time, they were really up against it on a pitch offering encouragement to South African speedsters Dale Steyn and Morkel who would have noted the bounce which Ireland's own paceman Boyd Rankin had got earlier in the day. Their opening burst always seemed set to be key in determining whether Ireland could challenge and so it proved.

Yet again in this tournament, Ireland's innings suffered an almost immediate blow in the form of a wicket in only the second over and, when a second soon followed, the men in green were really needing a century stand for the third wicket, as against India in similar circumstances, to get things back on course. But it didn't happen here as another two wickets went down quite quickly leaving the greens needing another miracle contribution from Kevin O'Brien. And that was always asking too much. First and foremost Ireland would have craved a solid start, repelling the initial assault and keeping their wickets intact for when things got a little easier but the captain departed to the final ball of the second over having taken six off Steyn's first helped by a Morkel misfield that allowed the ball to reach the boundary. However the paceman made amends when, after an uncomfortable Paul Stirling had got off the mark with a single into the slips, Porterfield hung his bat out to a decent delivery that perhaps left him slightly and was taken by his captaincy counterpart Smith at first slip.

With no disrespect to Stirling, losing Porterfield first was a bigger blow as the Donemana man had shown against India that he can play a long innings in this company and in the event the youngster wasn't long in following his captain back to the pavilion. Dropped by Morkel off Steyn - with the ball rolling over the boundary to add insult to injury for the bowler - the Middlesex man hit his second four in Morkel's second over but edged the next delivery into the slips where Jacques Kallis took a straightfoward catch. As always, much depended on the best batsman in the team, Ed Joyce, and the ever-reliable Niall O'Brien but for once the wicket-keeper went without getting past 20 - Gary Wilson was the only Irish player to do so here - and the writing was starkly on the wall when Joyce couldn't overturn an lbw decision in the 12th over just after the team 50 had been brought up. With survival still the priority - and in any case he had been scoring at a reasonable rate helped by smiting Morkel for a surprise six - O'Brien inexplicably slashed at Kallis in the all-rounder's first over and nicked it to his opposite number Morne van Wyk.

Aside from his 84 against the West Indies last time out, Joyce hasn't produced the weight of runs everyone had hoped for in this tournament and only made 12 this time off 24 balls with two boundaries. He perished trying to sweep Johan Botha who, like Kallis, was rather gifted a wicket in his first over as Ireland really lost their way. In Wilson, who had scored 61 against the West Indies before receiving a dreadful decision from the umpires, and Kevin O'Brien - still interesting Indian crowds on the back of his innings of a life-time that eclipsed England a fortnight ago - Ireland still had batters with the potential to make major contributions and they did add 41 in less than 10 overs before double disaster struck as Robin Peterson picked up two wickets in an over to conjure memories of the dramatic blows he inflicted on the English in an earlier group game. This time though, slow-left-armer Peterson hadn't opened the bowling and indeed was in his own fifth over before breaking through as O'Brien, who had signalled his intent by hitting in the air for four to the first ball of the over, swung hard and sent a steepler to Hashim Amla to depart for 19. The batsmen crossed and when Wilson was trapped in front by an arm ball two deliveries later he asked for a review as much as a last throw of the dice as an expression of real doubt in the umpire's decision. The television replay offered no reprieve - unlike Kallis to Mooney next ball when he dropped a catch at slip - and suddenly, at 93 for six, Ireland were in danger of ending up on the wrong side of a real rout reminiscent of some suffered by the weaker minnows earlier in the competition.

Although, in explaining how he had felt launching the unlikely charge for victory against England from an extremely hopeless position, Kevin O'Brien had argued that there was no point in simply playing for respectability, you half hoped that the remaining men might see some merit in occupying the crease here. Alright, this was Ireland's last throw of the dice in the quest for quarter-final qualification so it really was an all-or-nothing scenario, but by now the task of winning absolutely seemed beyond them and, with more than half the overs left, by playing sensibly they could salvage a much more modest margin of defeat. Alex Cusack, controversially, survived a protracted review with arguments around how far in front of the stumps he was hit and who should have the final call on it - in the end South Africa's referral failed to over-turn the on-field umpire's original 'not out' decision - but although he nicked the next ball for four to rub salt in bowler Peterson's wounds it didn't matter much on this occasion as he sliced a catch to Proteas skipper Smith in the covers in the same man's next over. That brought together two more of the late heroes of the successful chase of a much bigger target against England as Trent Johnston joined John Mooney but although the 2007 skipper smashed a defiant six he nicked behind in Duminy's first over to leave Ireland eight down at the 30-over mark. Earlier, South Africa had looked periously-placed when 133 for five at the same stage but by now that felt like a very long time ago.

Young George Dockrell didn't look like he intended to go down without a flourish and, after leg-glancing for four first ball and slicing a second boundary to third man off Kallis, he responded to losing Mooney - he edged Kallis, flat-footed, to the keeper for 14 - by smacking the returning Morkel's first comeback ball over cover for four. But the paceman predictably responded with a snorter next ball which was fended to the keeper leaving Ireland all out for 141, 132 short of victory with exactly 100 deliveries unused. It was an early finish to the game and to Ireland's courageous challenge in this group as the result renders Friday's final fixture with the Netherlands a dead rubber. The outlook had seemed so much brighter a few hours earlier as Ireland, with a fit-again Johnston restored to the team in place of the ill Andre Botha, had predictably invited a South African side missing former Carrickfergus professional AB de Villiers and mystery spinner Imran Tahir to bat first on a wicket which looked like offering a little assistance to the seamers early on.

After a steady start by both teams, a brilliant catch by young Dockrell off Rankin which sent back Amla gave Ireland the breakthrough and although two dropped catches allowed wicket-keeper van Wyk - promoted to No 3 - to blaze his way to 42, Ireland kept chipping away and brilliant ground-fielding was rewarded with run-outs which accounted for the opposition's two most experienced players, Smith and Kallis. Young spinners Dockrell and Stirling claimed a wicket apiece as South Africa faltered but that stand by Duminy - who finally fell one short of what would have been a perfectly-placed century when he was caught going for a maximum in the last over - and Ingram, eventually bowled by Johnston for 46, gave them the platform to turn the sort of total which would have inspired Ireland into one that seemed a bit beyond them.


Richard Bullick's report after the first innings

A superbly-paced innings of 99 by JP Duminy left Ireland needing to score 273 to remain in the World Cup after South Africa recovered from 117 for five at Eden Gardens in Calcutta. A similar target proved beyond the men in green against West Indies in Mohali in their lats match and, for prolonged periods today, they would have hoped to be chasing a lot less against an opposition attack spearheaded by dangermen Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Two run-outs which removed South Africa's most experienced pair, captain Graeme Smith and run-machine Jacques Kallis, and some fine fielding helped Ireland into a very promising position but Duminy in partnership with tournament debutant Colin Ingram got the favourites out of trouble and neutral observers will conclude that the Proteas have enough. And although the top order didn't do the damage Ireland feared, South Africa would have been even more perilously placed had wicket-keeper Morne van Wyk not been dropped twice on his way to a brisk 42. Those missed chances could yet prove particularly costly.

It was do-or-die time for Ireland coming into this one as defeat would automatically mean an early exit for Phil Simmons' side regardless of the outcome of their final group game against the Netherlands, yet as skipper William Porterfield pointed out there was little external pressure on Ireland as rank outsiders against South Africa, one of the tournament favourites and fresh from Saturday's superb victory against hosts India in Nagpur. This team believes, and with justification, that they can beat anyone on their day but the hope was that, if another massive upset proved beyond them, Ireland could at least build upon their strong showings so far in this tournament and yet again demonstrate that they belong in this revered company. With a green tinge to the pitch, South Africa boasting a couple of lively pacemen in Steyn and Morkel, and Ireland tending to lose an early wicket or two in recent matches, the hope was that Porterfield would win the toss and when he called correctly it was little surprise that the Proteas were invited to bat first. Until their tremendous triumph against India, the South African batting had looked light in this tournament and - especially on the evidence of their England encounter - heavily dependent on a strong top four. And against Ireland the line-up would lack former Carrickfergus professional AB de Villiers, who was given the match off to help his back problem. Special spinner Imran Tahir was allowed a little longer to recover from a chipped bone in his finger so apart from the little-known Ingram coming in for the formidable de Villiers, there were no changes to the team which beat India.

For Ireland, as expected, Trent Johnston returned to the team having made a sufficient recovery from the knee injury sustained while bowling against India two games ago and replaced fellow experienced all-rounder Andre Botha, who was ruled out of the match by illness. Both men have had frustratingly truncated tournaments, Botha having himself missed the English and Indian encounters with injury so the two haven't featured in the same side since the opener against Bangladesh last month. Johnston's return was a big boost but losing Botha's bowling against the land of his birth was a blow, even though his availability would have posed an interesting selection connundrum given that the hitherto vulnerable Gary Wilson's impressive half-century against the West Indies last time out had booked his starting spot for this one. With Johnston certain to return if fit, had Botha been available it would presumably have been a close call between him and a couple of the heroes of the victory over England, Alex Cusack and John Mooney, for the last two places. The other option would have been to leave out young opener Paul Stirling who hasn't fully fired so far but breaking up the settled top four would have been a big call.

The action began with Eden Gardens a lot emptier and quieter than would normally be the case when India are playing and likewise the game got off to a less frenetic start than the crowd would be accustomed to when their heroes bat first with living legend Sachin Tendulkar at the wicket and Virender Sehwag blazing away. Actually, Hashim Amla would have emulated Sehwag's trademark example in hitting the first ball of the innings for four but for the first of two excellent stops in the opening three overs by Wilson and if the catching could have matched the ground fielding it would have been an amazing afternoon for the men in green. Even with two drops it was to prove another enormously encouraging one for the first couple of hours. South Africa reached a sedate 14 for no wicket after four overs but the game really exploded into life in the fifth as Amla punished Boyd Rankin for firstly over-pitching with the opening delivery which was driven for four and then, having been beaten by extra bounce next ball, pulling him for six off one which sat up invitingly even though the towering Warwickshire bowler had been working up a decent pace. However he had his second wicket of the tournament next ball when Amla laced at another lifter outside off-stump and youngster George Dockrell did brilliantly to take a diving catch to his left on the run at third man.

With Kallis held back to No 4 today, the cheeky suggestion could have been made that the dismissal of Amla let Ireland into the South African tail and although wicket-keeper van Wyk was to make the most of his speculative promotion up the order with 42 off 41 balls he had a charmed life and didn't look like a quality batsman. After an unconvincing first four against Johnston, van Wyk was dropped for the first time before that sixth over was out when he hammered the ball straight at short extra cover where Kevin O'Brien couldn't hold on. He took two boundaries off Johnston's next over and the same in the following one from Rankin before being put down again, this time badly by Stirling at slip. The batsman's first life came on only four and the second when 23 so considering his fast rate of scoring, they were damaging misses. Predictably Ireland took their bowling powerplay with South Africa 52-2 after the first 10 overs just after a direct hit from Mooney at mid-wicket had removed their skipper Smith for a subdued seven off 18 balls. The big man couldn't return to his ground at the non-strikers' end in time and departed in disappointment as his indifferent form in this World Cup continues. The action continued through a period of drizzle which wet the ball and militated against the early introduction of spin. Kallis took a nice boundary off Rankin - who finished his spell with one for 37 off six - while Johnston's went for 35 thanks to 10 off the final two balls of it including what was to prove van Wyk's only six.

A second four for Kallis was the only concession from Mooney's opening over, replacing Rankin, and, showing faith in his teenage spin star by bringing him on in the powerplay in spite of the rain, Porterfield turned to Dockrell to take over from Johnston. He went for a boundary but it was to be the only four against Ireland's young slow bowlers in their first 15 overs between them. Dockrell got rid of the dangerous van Wyk in his second over, bowling the wicket-keeper as he tried to cut one which hurried on to make it 84 for three and it was to get even better for Ireland as the vastly experienced Kallis became the second victim of a run-out in the 21st over. With the total not yet past the hundred mark, he hesitated to take off in response to a call from new partner Duminy and against a fielder of Porterfield's class that proved fatal. Replays confirmed that keeper Niall O'Brien had completed the job with Kallis still short at the striker's end and gone for 19 off 31 balls.

When the again impressive Stirling - whose bowling has been such a bonus in this tournament and impressed many well-qualified observers - induced an edge from one of South Africa's suspect middle-order, Francois du Plessis, Porterfield's recent deployment of Johnston at slip was richly rewarded with a sharp catch and with the score 117 for five in the 27th over, Ireland would have hoped to get their opponents out for under 200. The underdogs were in the ascendancy and all the pressure was on new man Ingram, of unproven pedigree and playing his first innings of the tournament. However you don't make the South African squad for nothing and Ingram added an invaluable 87 in 13 overs with Duminy in a highly-productive partnership which felt like it was turning the game. When the left-hander was finally bowled by Johnston in the 40th over just four short of a half-century, he had faced only 43 balls, taken his team past 200 and given the lower order license to press on in the remaining overs with a competitive total already on the board. Having started slowly, the pair had upped the rate either side of the second drinks break and ball change with 56 coming off seven overs as the spinners started to become a little more expense, Cusack continued to disappoint with the ball in this tournament and then opening bowlers Rankin and Johnston struggled to stem the flow.

The wicket of Ingram at least delayed the Proteas' powerplay and Dockrell went for only two runs in the 41st over to finish with one for 37 from his 10 while Stirling went for 45 runs for the third time in the tournament - in fact on all three occasions that he has bowled a full allocation. In the end the powerplay was left until the final five overs of the innings and, although badly missing Botha's expertise in these situations especially with Cusack out of sorts, Ireland did reasonably well for the first of three overs in spite of an unfortunate five coming off one delivery in the 46th from Johnston when a shy at the stumps missed and the ball went to the boundary. But Rankin restricted South Africa to three from his last over and Mooney only gave away seven as the 250 came up off the final ball of the 48th. Johnston had pulled off one inspirational piece of fielding in the closing overs but, looking a little weary, he went for 17 runs in the 49th which included two boundaries and a maximum as Duminy, from nowhere, suddenly closed on what would be a near-run-a-ball century. However he selflessly aimed a huge blow at Mooney midway through the 50th over and Kevin O'Brien raised Ireland's spirits by running round to take a superb, steepling catch which saw Duminy depart for 99 - off only 103 deliveries in spite of his slow start - and the over only went for five to keep the target just below what West Indies set Simmons' side at Mohali last Friday.