If there was any doubt that Ireland deserved their place at the top table of world cricket, they proved it yesterday at HQ with a performance that kept a packed house on tenterhooks until the last three overs.
No-one was more worried than Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara who admitted that he didn’t change the field to help Lasith Malinga get a hat-trick because Ireland were only 39 runs from victory.
It was that Malinga over, the 18th of the innings, that ultimately settled the outcome, but still this courageous and talented team refused to give in.
John Mooney hit three fours in the next over and if anyone else but ‘Malinga the Slinger’ had sent down the last over, Ireland may have had a chance of causing the biggest upset in the short history of World Twenty20.
Needing 18 to win their first Super Eight game Ireland had to make do with eight, but the margin of defeat has only encouraged the squad that they can still get that victory in the last match, against Pakistan at The Oval today.
Mathematically Ireland can still reach the semi finals, but not only would they have to hammer Younis Khan’s side, New Zealand would also have to inflict a heavy defeat on the Sri Lankans in the last match in Group F. The odds are barely worth considering.
The tone for the Ireland display was set in the first six overs; the power play overs when only three fielders are allowed more than 30 yards from the bat. In Sri Lanka’s last match, against West Indies, Tillakaratne Dilshan and the ageless Sanath Jayasuriya helped themselves to 67.
Yesterday Dilshan was out second ball and 5.4 overs later the scoreboard read 28 for two, the second lowest power play of the tournament.
Boyd Rankin, recalled in place of Peter Connell, made the breakthrough and Trent Johnston followed up by taking one for six in his first three overs including only the third maiden in the 19 matches. The stumbling block and, indeed, the man of the match was Mahela Jayawardene, the veteran of 102 Tests and 299 ODIs.
For the next hour he defied everything the Ireland bowling threw at him, scoring 78 from 53 balls, his highest score in 47 T20 games. He was eventually bowled by Alex Cusack, the second of the Clontarf bowler’s four wickets in a spell of nine balls at a cost of just five runs. It was almost five for five, but the last ball of the innings fell just in front of a diving Kevin O’Brien and went for four to give Sri Lanka a final total of 144 for nine.
With Niall O’Brien promoted to open in the absence of Gary Wilson — he was replaced by Andrew White — Ireland finally got the opening partnership they have craved all tournament, skipper William Porterfield scoring 31 out of 59.
It took nine overs but the platform was there and with the spinners having made the breakthrough White was sent in at No 3 and he duly scored 22 at better than a run-a-ball.
Niall O’Brien twisted the ankle he injured in the win against Bangladesh last Monday but still ran all but 16 of his 31 runs and at the end John Mooney matched the opening batsmen’s totals to continue his magnificent tournament.
He also took a superb catch to give Rankin his second wicket.
The only difference in the end was Malinga and the spin twins of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis.
In their 12 overs they took five for 54. It needed that extra class to win the day.