Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara led the tributes to Ireland after their nine runs defeat at Lord’s in the World Twenty20 Super Eights yesterday.
The eloquent wicket-keeper/batsman said: “It must be very encouraging for Ireland as a cricketing nation and they will get stronger and stronger as long as they get some good young cricketers taking up the game and really concentrating on playing for their country (a not so veiled reference to Eoin Morgan declaring for England).
“They bowled well in the first six overs and we lost two wickets, that’s when our (target) total came down to 140 but Mahela (Jayawardene, the man of the match) batted beautifully When you are defending a relatively low total the other side is always going to get close and the key is not to let them get close enough.
Jayawardene, who scored 78 from just 53 balls — only three Sri Lankans reached double figures — added: “We knew Ireland are a dangerous unit and especially in Twenty20 cricket you cannot underestimate any team.
“At Lord’s 140-150 is a very good score so we didn’t think too big and did the simple things right and got a win which was most important.”
And Ireland coach Phil Simmons could not hide his pride after the match, saying: “I’m proud of my team and their efforts today. We’ve shown we don’t look out of place on the world stage — we gave it our all today and we couldn’t have done anymore. We’ve left nothing here.
“The guys are a little down, but I’m sure they’ll be up again for the Pakistan game tomorrow at the Oval. They’ll be out for revenge after we beat them at the 2007 World Cup, so we’ll be on our guard for that.
“I want the team to finish the tournament on a high note — we came close to doing that today, but it wasn’t just enough.”