Birrell Hopes On The Rocks Of Putting Nightmares Bed In MSL-Final > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Birrell hopes to put Rocks nightmares to bed in MSL final

"We looked at the draft and we tried to select a team who were capable of winning regularly at home," says Birrell.

"We looked at the draft and we tried to select a team who were capable of winning regularly at home," says Birrell.

Adrian Birrell, the Paarl Rocks coach, who has guided his team into Monday's Mzansi Super League (MSL) final against the Tshwane Spartans, still has cricket nightmares, even after nearly 30 years in the game. The bad dream, where he is timed out while trapped in the dressing-room, trying to put on his pads, is a thing of the past, but the nightmares continue.

Birrell's haunting is not surprising, for cricket is a nightmarish game. Inexplicable collapses, spooky run-outs, demented umpires and bewitched fielders, the dark side of the sport hovers in the shadows, only a dropped catch or bad decision away.

The Rocks have had their fair share of bad luck in recent seasons. During last year's inaugural tournament, they travelled up to the Wanderers for a play-off against the Jozi Stars. It rained heavily enough in Jo'burg - one is tempted to say the clouds were the colour of a bad dream - for the game to be abandoned, and the Stars went through to the final because they finished above the Rocks on the log.

Again, this season, the Rocks confronted misfortune's gloomy face. They lost Aiden Markram to a hand injury in India in October and then Dwaine Pretorius and JP Duminy fell to injury in quick succession. "The injuries were massive blows - you've just got to get on with the job," Birrell tells Cricbuzz. "The good thing from our point of view was that they helped gel the team."

The gelling was important because the Rocks are arguably the least high-profile team in the competition, with the possible exception of the Durban Heat. There's no Quinton de Kock or AB de Villiers in their midst, no Morne Morkel or "KG" Rabada.

Despite this, their motley crew have managed to cobble together three home wins and three on the road, meaning that they qualified automatically for Monday's sell-out final in front of the most appreciative crowd in the competition. "To get a home final is massive for the region, who have been starved of good cricket," says Birrell. "We feel a responsibility to deliver, we know how passionate the fans are in the Boland. Whether it's Ireland, Hampshire or the Rocks, you want to leave a team in better shape than they were in when you started."

There's no secret to what they've done and how they've done it, says Birrell, although there are some touchstones. He says that it's important that your good players are in form, and that you play well in the power-play, the middle overs and at the end, all pretty common sense stuff.

"We looked at the draft and we tried to select a team who were capable of winning regularly at home," he says. "We didn't get everyone we wanted but winning at home was uppermost in our minds.

"Paarl can also be a very good wicket - I only learned that last year," he adds. "The pitch can almost be too good for our team and you have to learn to play on it."

Birrell isn't keen to single out individual matches or performances, but reluctantly he dubs the late victory over the Giants as "a tricky game and a massive victory - we bowled as a unit at St George's [against the Giants] and the combined effort was outstanding".

He also highlights 80s by James Vince (since lost to the Sydney Sixers, he won't be available for the final) and Cameron Delport as well as the captaincy of Faf du Plessis as factors in the Rocks being able to put past hauntings behind them.

Then there are the Rocks' spin twins, both suited to the Paarl wicket and neatly complimentary. "Both Bjorn [Fortuin] and Tabraiz [Shamsi] have been good in the role," he says. "Bjorn is going to bowl in the power-play and then come back later, while Tabraiz is an out-and-out attacker. His job is to get wickets."

Shamsi's tricks are to be encouraged, says Birrell, because the game needs characters. He says that the team didn't know that Shamsi, an amateur magician in his spare time, was going to turn a red handkerchief into a cane after he dismissed Wihan Lubbe in the match against the Heat, and expects more fun in the final.

"He doesn't show us what he's going to do - he's got something up his sleeve for the final, that I can tell you," says Birrell with a chuckle.

Through November and December the Rocks' troupe of magicians (Shamsi), privateers (Delport) and journeymen (Ferisco Adams), turned the bad luck around. Now they stand poised on the cusp of history, attempting to bring some cricket happiness into a region that have always been a grumpy junior partner to their Newlands seniors. "This means so much to the community of the Boland," says Birrell. "We feel it hugely."

For all the importance of Monday's final, Birrell has other issues to deal with. He returned home to the Eastern Cape for a couple of days before the final, to visit the family farm near Grahamstown. "We farm cattle, honey and wildlife - in that order," he says. "This drought has been catastrophic for the bees. I really couldn't make a go of it if I was trying to earn a living from farming alone."

It's a salutary reminder that cricket, the game we love, is different to life in important ways. When he was Ireland's coach Birrell had a recurring nightmare in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean that his side were being bowled out for 24.

Now he's fighting to save his farm. It's a different matter entirely.

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