TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
“At 10 o’clock on Sunday morning we’ll be open for business,” SA assistant coach Adrian Birrell told anyone who wondered whether the home side would go easy on Ireland in their one-day international in Benoni.
“We’ll be playing hard,” Birrell added for the benefit of those who might not have heard him the first time.
The Irish have lost eight of the 11 ODIs they have played since the 2015 World Cup, including three against Afghanistan.
Was Birrell being polite about the visitors or did he know something others didn’t?
“They’ve had a few recent losses but I wouldn’t read too much into that,” he said. “Every now and again they create a huge upset.”
Like they did at the 2007 World Cup, when they beat Pakistan to dump them out of the tournament.
Birrell helped engineer that miracle – he was then Ireland’s coach.
“I coached most of these players; I know most of the strengths and weaknesses,” Birrell said.
“They’re missing two big players, Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin. So that’s their main bowler and their main batsman out.”
But, as Birrell noted, SA won’t be at full strength themselves.
“Chris Morris will be a big loss. So will AB de Villiers. But it’s a great opportunity for maybe Andile Phehlukwayo, who might make his debut.”
Morris and De Villiers are overcoming knee and elbow injuries, and budding allrounder Phehlukwayo looks likely to fill one of those vacancies.
Temba Bavuma, who has played 11 tests but no ODIs, is set to open the batting.
Whoever cracks the nod on Sunday will be part of a stated plan to take the fight to the opposition rather than wait for an opportunity to counterpunch, as SA teams have tended to do.
Birrell said that philosophy would apply. Conditionally, anyway.
“We will assess conditions and play accordingly; look to try and dominate with the bat and try and be aggressive with the ball,” he said.
“The first few overs you will probably see us being a bit tentative. This is still early in the season season and we are not sure exactly what the pitch will play like.
“We’ll build from there and hopefully with a good start we’ll be able to play aggressively after that.”
Not the Irish. They’ll be fighting from the first ball.