De Villiers blitz puts Ireland fast bowlers on red alert
IF Ireland needed an incentive to focus on the one area that has been mis-firing for them so far in the World Cup, it was provided yesterday by AB de Villiers smashing an astonish 162 not out from 66 balls for South Africa against the West Indies in Sydney.
De Villiers' century came up in 52 balls - only two more than the World Cup record held by Kevin O'Brien - as South Africa flailed 222 runs from the final 15 overs to reach a massive 408-5. In reply, the West Indies were bowled out for 151.
South Africa are Ireland's next opponents in Canberra on Tuesday and Phil Simmons and his coaching team were already reviewing tactics and disciplines for the "'death overs' after conceding 167 in the final 15 to the West Indies and 147 against the United Arab Emirates.
Ireland have been boosted by taking early wickets in both games but without the same quality of fast bowler as some top sides, the Boys in Green are always vulnerable to a late onslaught - and there is no more dangerous batsman in the world at the moment than de Villiers.
The 31-year-old, who played a season for Carrickfergus in 2004, scored the fastest ODI century in history - from 31 balls - against the West Indies in Johannesburg only last month, and his innings at the SCG is the fastest recorded 150 (from 64 balls) in ODIs. He also holds the record for the fastest ODI fifty.
So how do Ireland stop him? Not easily. The yorker - a delivery at the batsman's feet in the blockhole - is still the most effective way to stem runs late in the innings but it carries a small margin of error.
Coaches favour the slower-ball bouncer but there has been evidence in this World Cup that batsmen are getting used to it.
The best way to stop any batsman scoring is to get him out, of course, so maybe Ireland captain William Porterfield will have to be brave and counter-attack. Very brave.
The one upside to de Villiers' mayhem is that by losing so heavily the West Indies now have an inferior run-rate to Ireland's, and that could be crucial in deciding progress to the quarter-finals.
De Villiers' final 50 came from just 12 balls.
"You get into that kind of mode, and it doesn't happen very often, it's quite a good feeling to feel one step ahead of the bowlers, that's the main thing," said De Villiers.
"You get a really good gut feel for what they're trying to do. It's part of cricket, you work really hard trying to get in, you work really hard to get some momentum behind you, then you've earned the right to take control of the game.
"Sometimes it goes you way, sometimes it doesn't. I got dropped a couple of times which helped me really free up and dominate a bit at the end."
The sheer range of shots he played was breathtaking but he admitted to feeling out of sorts when he came out to join Rilee Rossouw in the middle with his side becalmed at 146-3.
"Rilee played a big part in me getting off my feet today," he said. "I didn't feel too well going out to the wicket, a bit flat. He had a lot energy about him, a lot of intensity, making it look flat out there."