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We will have to sharpen up our ideas: Ireland captain William Porterfield

By Ian Callender

As a warm-up for Ireland’s most important series of the summer, against Afghanistan in Belfast next month, the 2-0 defeat by Sri Lanka left more questions than answers.

There is unlikely to be too many, if any, changes in the squad for the five-match series against Ireland’s main rivals for the kings of Associate Cricket in the one-day international arena, but the fact they were so far behind Sri Lanka, the fifth best team in the world, only added to the gloom which has enveloped Ireland since their World Twenty 20 debacle in March.

A 136-run loss in Saturday’s ODI at Malahide was 60 runs worse than the first match on Thursday, with the Ireland batsmen again having no answer to the Sri Lankans’ accuracy with the new ball and the bowlers for much of the innings proving little more than cannon fodder on a superb pitch where batting, rightly, ruled supreme.

The destroyer in chief was Seekuge Prasanna, who came into the game with an average of nine from his first 23 ODI innings at a strike rate of 84. The batsman on view on Saturday belied those statistics.

Promoted to No 3, as a pinch-hitter, after an opening stand of 147, Prasanna scored 90 of the next 125 runs from just 39 balls with nine sixes and five fours. Apart from a maiden by Barry McCarthy to opener Kusal Perera, who still finished with 135 from 128 balls, every one of the overs in that period went for double figures.

It was destructive, entertaining hitting at its best and not one of Ireland’s three most experienced bowlers — Tim Murtagh, Boyd Rankin or Kevin O’Brien — had any answer.

Their figures make for horrible reading — no one had conceded more than Rankin’s 86 in an ODI in Ireland — with O’Brien’s 81 coming off just eight overs.

To their credit, one wicket brought seven, Murtagh finishing with three and Rankin and McCarthy two as Sri Lanka were restricted to 68 in the last eight overs, but that was still exactly the same as Ireland’s last (and best) eight overs when they lost only two wickets.

Still, the total of 377 for eight was by some distance the highest ever in an ODI in Ireland and the third highest conceded anywhere by Ireland. Not exactly what captain William Porterfield had in mind when he forecast a series win for his side.

“When a team is only one down after 30 overs they have that licence (to hit out) and they can do that to you,” said Porterfield. “Cricket is going that way and it’s hard to restrict teams if you don’t get those wickets up front and those overs 30-40 are very hard.

“So we have to brush up on that, be sharper with our skills, and have to be clear in what we want to do coming into the Afghan series which is a big one.”

The two positives to come out of the series were McCarthy, in his first two Ireland games, with the ball and Andy McBrine who scored 79 on Saturday and, as coach John Bracewell admitted, is now a key all-rounder.

“Both are growing every time I see them. They have an optimistic attitude and bounce back from disappointment. Andy learns on the job. He takes away packages, from being around and playing cricket,” he said.

“He is already a batting all-rounder. I put him in at No 5 in the A competition (against Scotland) and I see him in the top seven, a vital batting position in this form of the game.”

Scores: Sri Lanka 377-8 (K Perera 135, S Prasanna 95, D Gunathilaka 63; T Murtagh 3-66, B McCarthy 2-52, B Rankin 2-86) Ireland 241 (45 overs, A McBrine 79, S Poynter 36, J Anderson 34; S Lakmal 4-38). Sri Lanka won by 136 runs.

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