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Squad Stats: South Africa Vs Ireland

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This may well be the second of the gory carnages that we witness in the Super Eight - who knows how many records they would have shattered had Australia batted the entire 50 overs against Bangladesh. While the South African batting may not be the most consistent in the world, they have shown a distinct liking for well and truly ruining the bowlers day when they get in, with more than a few 350 plus scores. At any rate, they certainly aren’t going to be as easy to put up a fight against as the indifferent English and the mercurial Pakistanis.

Having said that,
Ireland has surprisingly been amongst the most consistent teams in the world cup- take a look at their performance so far. They had the Africans down to 98 for 8 in their first game, defeated Canada in their second, pulled off a spectacular tie against the run of play against Zimbabwe, defeated Pakistan, lost gamely against the Windies and put up a respectable show against England.


Besides, no giant is without weakness, and let me not go into the overused David-Goliath story to prove that.

I) African Muscle

The South African top order is in excellent touch, with each of Smith, Gibbs, De Villiers and Kallis having already registered big scores. If Ireland don’t get early wickets, the South African innings is likely to follow the by-now usual route of scoring at 5-6 per over and holding wickets in hand, and then exploding in the last 10 overs to touch 350-375.

 
The South African bowlers also have one of the lowest average runs conceded per fifty overs from amongst all the teams – 226. Ntini and Pollock contribute most to this stat, each averaging 4 points better than the overall team bowling average.


The start of each team’s innings , therefore, will be crucial in determining if this game will be a gorefest, or reasonably competitive.


II) Weak Middle Order


Herschelle Gibbs recently complained that the South African middle order wasn’t contributing enough, and needed to be a little more consistent. Let’s see if there’s any tooth to his claims.
An interesting stat is that in four of the last five games in which they have lost 7 wickets or more (three of them being in this world cup), South Africa have lost wickets no. 3 to 7 for 47, 54, 49 and 64 runs.
This means of late, the South African middle order has been scoring at an average close to 11 runs per wicket. Even Geoffrey Boycott's mom would point that this is alarmingly low.


More interestingly, this middle order fragility has come significantly to the fore in their dramatic 98 for 8 collapse the last time they played Ireland, where they went from 3 for 22 to 7 for 66, effectively losing 5 wickets for 44 runs. So Gibbs has a point after all.

 

 Jacques Kallis has been South Africa’s most consistent batsman of late, with scores of 86, 48, 128, 29, and 34 in his last five innings. It may not be such a bad idea to move him down from the number 3 spot where he currently bats to either number 4 or 5 to try and bolster the middle order. Well, if they are to try it, against Ireland is the best time to do it.

 

III) To win match, engineer collapse

 

You will observe that as a general rule, upsets happen when the stronger batting line up collapses to a below potential score. It is always more likely that a strong batting line up will collapse against a weak/mediocre bowling attack, as against a weak batting line up playing well against a strong bowling attack even if they are having an off-day.

It’s been the case right from India’s win against West Indies in 1983 to Kenya’s win against West Indies in 1996, to their win against Lanka in 2003, to Bangladesh’s conquest of Pakistan in 1999, to their defeat of India this time around, with the only exception being Bangladesh game against Australia in Cardiff.

 The Irish have shown an ability to pull off collapses, having already engineered two in this World Cup. Part of the reason is that their bowling attack works as a whole, without being dependent on one single bowler to wreck the opposition with a five wicket haul or so.

In their games against South Africa and Pakistan, the distribution of wickets has been 4, 3, 2, 1 and 3, 2, 1,1,1,2 respectively. In an impressive bowling effort against England until Collingwood rescued them, Ireland again had five wicket takers, with the distribution being 2, 1,1,1,1.

 When you match that up against South Africa’s weak middle order, you can see that if there has to be an upset, this is where it has to come from. Ireland cannot chase 250+ scores against a strong South African bowling attack. Their best bet is to get Smith and De Villiers early, and expose the middle order.



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