On March 3rd, 2015, South Africa's batsmen will be tasked with piling on enough runs to tower over Ireland in a World Cup group game at Manuka Oval. AB de Villiers already knows the game plan for that day because Australia did exactly that to beat his side by a comfortable 73 runs today.
Nevermind that Australia's victory gave them a 2-1 lead in a series South Africa are considering crucial for their World Cup preparation; learning about conditions in Canberra, where the visitors last played 17 years ago against an Australian Prime Minister's XI, was more important.
"It's a slowish kind of deck, not an ideal wicket to play on against a team like Ireland," de Villiers said. "Ideally we'd like to have pace and bounce so we can use our seam bowlers, which is one of our strengths. But on the other hand, the ability of our top six or seven batting line-up is also really good so that will be the plan: to bat Ireland out of the game when we play them here."
De Villiers' conviction in his batsmen came despite losing six of them for 32 runs. Until then though, South Africa were on track for a chase of 330 - their openers put on 100 inside 18 overs, Hashim Amla went on to score a century, and de Villiers was playing with the kind of innovation that has sunk other teams in the past. But things changed.
"I got out at a bad time," de Villiers said. And then Amla got out in the next over. That left Farhaan Behardien and David Miller to control the chase, but with both being new at the crease de Villiers had reason to worry. "Throughout Australia's innings, they never had two new batters at the crease. That was part of our game plan too," he said. "On these kind of decks where it's a bit slower, there's a little bit of reverse swing, the ball was getting softer and a little green, when you get two new batters at the crease, the run rate is always going to slow down a bit." So why then is de Villiers so sure that won't happen to South Africa in three months' time against Ireland?
Because the person who usually bats in such situations was not around in this match. "JP [Duminy] plays a big part in our team. It really balances the team nicely when he's here. His finishing abilities in that middle order is priceless," de Villiers said.
Duminy was ruled out of the series with a knee injury, but is expected to be fit when West Indies visit South Africa at the end of the year and the World Cup. His return would firm up a middle order that has been exposed for inexperience yet again but will not paper over problems concerning South Africa's depth, which de Villiers does not believe are as serious as they appear.
De Villiers expressed "full faith," in Behardien and Miller to do the job if needed in future and while Miller has some record of doing so in the past, the vote of confidence in Behardien is surprising. He has 32 runs from three innings in this series and has been out for single-figures in four of his last six ODIs. But he chips in with a few overs, which de Villiers found particularly useful on the Canberra surface. "On these kind of wickets, you do tend to get away with the fifth bowler not being a full-time bowler," he said. "He's got good skill. I've got faith in him and his ability to perform for us, especially when we want to go with this balance, with the extra batter."
The bottom line though is that South Africa will not want to rely on an extra batsman who is actually more of a fill-in bowler at the World Cup and that may be the biggest lesson they take out of the Australian capital. De Villiers seemed to concede as much as he considered how to level the series in Melbourne, another of South Africa's World Cup venues.
"It's very difficult to imitate World Cup games, but when you play for South Africa in any game, the competitive juices are there and you want to win. But there is something different in a World Cup. Its a bit more special and every game matters a lot to you. There's no a room for mistakes. Here, you can get away with a bad game or two," he said. "We'll just have to put that right in Melbourne."