Days after Ireland pulled off their first international win over South Africa, the two teams face off in a three-match T20I series, with the opening game taking place today at The Village in Malahide.
Ireland and South Africa will lock horns in the T20I format for the first time ever as they move towards the T20 World Cup in the UAE later this year. While the hosts last played an international shortest-format game against Afghanistan in March, the Proteas are on the back of a historic T20I series win over the mighty West Indies.
The honors were even in the recent ODI series between the two sides. After the series opener was washed out by rain, Ireland scripted a historic win in the second game. South Africa salvaged the series by winning the final encounter, but Andy Balbirnie's men sent a clear message with their fight and resolve.
An exciting T20I series beckons, with both teams having a lot to play for. Ireland haven't qualified for the T20 World Cup yet and are scheduled to face top teams like Sri Lanka and the Netherlands in the qualifiers for the showpiece event. They need a morale-booster, as do South Africa, who must get used to life under a new captain in Temba Bavuma.
Ireland vs South Africa 1st T20I Prediction: Who will win the series opener in Dublin?
South Africa relied on complete team performances to get over the line against West Indies. Openers Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma struck form, with middle-order batsmen like Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen coming up with vital contributions.
David Miller had a rough series against the Windies, and his spot in the T20I side has a question mark under it with other talented players like Wiaan Mulder and Heinrich Klaasen in the mix. The Proteas pace attack wasn't at its best in the previous series as only Anrich Nortje threatened consistently, and Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi need to raise their game against Ireland.
South Africa's trump card with the ball has been Tabraiz Shamsi. The left-arm wrist-spinner is at #1 on the ICC T20I bowling rankings with 821 points, more than 100 points in front of second-placed Rashid Khan. George Linde has been decent for the Proteas, but Shamsi holds the key in the spin department.
Ireland are slowly integrating talented young players into their first-choice playing XI as they move towards the next generation of all-format cricket. Captain Balbirnie has led the team well, and he has had support from veterans like Paul Stirling in the T20I format.
The Irish bowling attack is pace-dominated but admirably versatile, lending weight to the belief that the South African batsmen won't find it as easy to score runs at Malahide as they did in the third and final ODI. Ireland were beaten by the Netherlands earlier this year, but that was largely due to batting collapses as the bowlers put up a good showing.
Can Ireland restrict the free-flowing South African top order in the powerplay? If the conditions at The Village provide the Irish new-ball bowlers some assistance, they could attack the relatively weak middle-order underbelly. But with a high-scoring encounter on the cards, the visitors may just have the firepower to take the attack to Ireland and put up a massive total - or chase one down for that matter.
South Africa have a few kinks to iron out, such as their approach in the middle overs and the roles to be played by the lead pacers. But overall, they are on the back of a great result and should be able to keep their T20I form going. And while Ireland have already proven they aren't pushovers, the Proteas are the favorites for the T20I series opener.
Prediction: South Africa to win