Ireland are ready to mix it with the best in the world: Bracewell
The Ireland cricket team are now a recognised player on the world stage, having taken part in eight global events since their dramatic breakthrough at the 2007 World Cup, but the next two games will be their biggest step yet.
Ireland have earned their place at three World Cups and five World Twenty20s by qualifying to play alongside the elite on the world stage, but when they face South Africa tomorrow and Australia on Tuesday in Benoni, in one-day internationals, they are there by invitation. They are landmark games.
"We are getting good opposition and to get invited to play away in South Africa and (next summer) in England is a massive step forward and we have to be ready to play in those games," says coach John Bracewell.
To that end, 13 of the 14-man squad arrived in Johannesburg last Sunday to acclimatise and ensure they are fully prepared for what will be the toughest stand-alone games in their history. The missing player was opening bowler Tim Murtagh, allowed to help Middlesex complete victory over Yorkshire yesterday - with 28 balls to spare - to win the County Championship.
Despite arriving just 24 hours before the South Africa game, he has not been ruled out of the starting XI, but Bracewell has backed his young attack to shine on the faster pitches.
Although missing the experience of Boyd Rankin, the coach claims that in "Craig Young, Peter Chase and Barry McCarthy we have an international bowling attack as sharp as most sides and playing on our own pitches I don't think we are doing justice to our strengths", he said.
"We have struggled in the Twenty20 format recently but I am not particularly worried about the one-day internationals. We competed against Afghanistan but we need to give the selectors better options in terms of depth and have to make sure the players selected don't become complacent over their spots.
"We have picked an experienced batting line-up as it would have been unfair to pitch uncapped players into these two huge games.
"With Ed Joyce missing, it is a great opportunity for John Anderson, for example, to express himself on the international stage. He has been prolific in the inter-pros this season and also scored a match-winning century in the Irish Cup final (when Merrion beat Waringstown).
"But we have to be realistic, if we are taking on the best teams in the world we are not going to tip them over every time, not everything is going to be an upset. This is only the start of our journey but we have to improve."
Ireland will be grateful that both the world's No 1 batsman, AB de Villiers (injured elbow) and former captain Hashim Amla (rested) will miss tomorrow's game.
Leading the Proteas, will be Faf de Plessis, who scored 109 in last year's World Cup match between the teams in Canberra when Ireland conceded their highest ever ODI total of 411 for four.
None of the three young bowlers played in that match but Kevin O'Brien, George Dockrell, Paul Stirling and Andy McBrine will be back, desperate to make amends. Only four of the South Africa team that day will be on duty tomorrow and none of the wicket-takers who bowled out Ireland for 210, but although the Ireland batsmen do not have to face Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbott or the injured Morne Morkel, the uncapped Andile Phehlukwayo will be out to prove a point, having also been named in the squad for the five-match series against Australia, which follows Ireland's two ODIs.
Joyce, who is to undergo knee surgery, carried the batting through this summer's drawn series against Afghanistan and is sure to be missed. But there has never been a better time for the others to stand up and be counted.
South Africa: F du Plessis (capt), T Bavuma, F Behardien, Q de Kock, JP Duminy, D Miller, C Morris, W Parnell, A Phangiso, A Phehlukwayo, D Pretorius, K Rabada, R Rossouw
Ireland: W Porterfield, J Anderson, P Chase, G Dockrell, T Murtagh, A McBrine, B McCarthy, K O'Brien, N O'Brien, S Poynter, P Stirling, S Terry, G Wilson, C Young.