Cricket World Cup: Ireland ready to go for glory in Gardens
Even Andre Botha, who has been around for a while and played in most countries of the world, was impressed by his first sight of Eden Gardens.
The second biggest cricket ground in the world - behind the MCG in Melbourne - is truly an inspirational sight and while there will be somewhat less than the 63,500 capacity watching Ireland’s must-win penultimate Group B World Cup clash with South Africa tomorrow (9am GMT start), there will still be a tingle among every Irish player when they take the field.
“Just standing out in the middle, even without the crowds, you can feel the whole atmosphere of the place and the history behind it. It is really special,” said 35-year-old Botha at yesterday’s training session.
The other factor which the team will have to adjust to in Kolkata is the humidity. The temperature may be the same as Bangalore, where Ireland famously beat England and gave hosts India a scare, but it feels around 10 degrees warmer.
Short spells have been the order of the day for the Ireland bowlers at this World Cup, expect them to be even shorter tomorrow — and on Friday when they meet the Netherlands.
And it is the bowling attack which will be in the spotlight as they strive to repeat their heroics against India.
That day Trent Johnston dismissed Virender Sehwag and Gautam Ghambir in his first 14 balls to put the best batting line-up in one-day cricket under immediate pressure.
Tomorrow they come against the top two one-day batsmen in the world, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, while the remainder of South Africa’s top five, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy are also in the top 20.
It’s another awesome challenge for a team that has played only seven ODIs against a top eight team in the four years between World Cups. And for the second match in a row Ireland won’t know if Johnston can play until an hour before the start.
The strike bowler failed a fitness test on his bruised knee before the West Indies game last Friday, but the word is he is much more hopeful of passing a test tomorrow morning.
He did not bowl in yesterday’s training session, but he tweeted: “I’ll be playing at Eden Gardens, that’s for sure.”
It will be no easier for the Ireland batsmen who will face two of the world’s top seven bowlers in Morne Morkel (No 2) and Dale Steyn.
They haven’t enjoyed a convincing start in any of their four matches so far — highest opening stand 23 — but Paul Stirling will enjoy the ball coming on to the bat, even at extreme pace rather than the slow bowling which accounted for him against West Indies.
A total of 250 plus is likely to be only par in Eden Gardens with the groundsman expected to serve up a traditional flat Indian pitch with little help for the bowlers.
There is no recent history to go by, however. Tomorrow’s game will be only the second ODI at Eden Gardens since February 2007. In the last, on Christmas Eve 2009, India beat Sri Lanka by seven wickets in a game of 632 runs and only nine wickets. Worryingly for Ireland, in South Africa’s last game here, Smith hit 134 not out as they beat India by 10 wickets.
If Johnston makes it, then Botha seems certain to miss out on the opportunity of playing his native country for the third time in his career.
But he was speaking for the team yesterday when he said: “Any time you play against South Africa is special, not because I was born there, but obviously they are one of the best teams and favourites to win the title. To play them every time in the World Cup is going to be pretty special.”
Let’s hope the Ireland team produce a special performance because this time it really is win or bust.
World Cup holders Australia yesterday secured their place in the quarter-finals with a 60-run victory over Kenya. The Kenyans couldn’t come close to the Aussies 324 for 6.
New Zealand are in the last eight too after a 97-run win against Canada, having hit 358 in their 50 overs.