Cricket World Cup 2011
Momentum is key for Proteas
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Kolkata - South Africa has identified momentum as the key to its World Cup effort, and Ireland is the next target after a last-gasp victory over co-host India propelled the Proteas toward the quarterfinals.
While the South Africans are eager to use the India result to get on a roll, according to captain Graeme Smith, following a stop-start Group B campaign, their opposition can't look much further than Tuesday's match at Eden Gardens.
Ireland has no option but to win against South Africa to keep its hopes of a place in the quarters alive.
Although not quite qualified, South Africa is on the brink of the knockouts and now wants to work up to peak form starting against the Irish at Kolkata's 90,000-capacity ground.
Eden Gardens will also have its performance scrutinised after problems led to an earlier game being moved to another venue. Delays with the renovation of the stadium meant the International Cricket Council switched the India vs. England Group B match on Feb. 27 to Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium.
The high-scoring tie turned out to be the best game of the tournament so far.
So, Eden Gardens makes its delayed entrance at the World Cup with South Africa-Ireland, and will also host Ireland vs. Netherlands on Friday and Kenya vs. Zimbabwe on Sunday.
Smith has welcomed the chance for South Africa to play its last three group games - against India, and now Ireland and Bangladesh - in the space of seven days after a slow, spread out start where the team had week-long breaks between games and lost to England.
"The good thing for us now is that we play a couple of games close together before the quarterfinals," Smith said. "We've got an opportunity now with a game every three or four days to really build up some momentum which is something that is important for us."
It's also time for South Africa to tackle its reputation as World Cup failures head-on, said the captain.
The 'choker' tag has again been attached to the team this year, just as it has for previous World Cups, because of the three-time semifinalist's regular flops in crucial, knockout games.
South Africa showed composure in crucial situations in Saturday's morale-boosting win over the co-host.
"To be honest, there's no point in us in trying to hide from the perception (of failing at World Cups)," Smith said. "Our past is our past and we can't hide from it.
"We haven't won a World Cup so there's no point in us hiding away from it. We have the opportunity to be the crop of players to change that perception and hopefully we do."
South Africa will do well not to look too far ahead of a match with an Ireland team that has already shown its ability for amazing upsets with its back against the wall.
The Kevin O'Brien-inspired shock over England two weeks ago showed Ireland's fighting qualities - as did its victory over Pakistan last World Cup to win a place in the second round of that tournament.
"Four years ago, no one gave us a chance playing Pakistan," captain William Porterfield said. "Obviously we have got to go and play South Africa and South Africa is one of the favorites.
"(But) We've been playing some good cricket so there's no reason why we can't go out there and leave everything on the pitch. We've got to go out there and play with freedom and come hard at them and you never know from there. Nothing's impossible in a game of 50-over cricket."
Ireland all-rounder Andre Botha - one of two squad members born in South Africa - repeated Porterfield's sentiments.
Botha said the Irish could now produce some of their best cricket because they have to go all out for victory in two final group games - against the South Africans and the Dutch - to progress.
"Now we have to win, we might just play with a bit more freedom like we used to," Botha said. "I think winning for us means we can probably go out with a bit more freedom and give it everything we've got without the extra pressures behind it."