Ireland enjoy strong start to second Sri Lanka Test as Andy Balbirnie hits 95

Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie fell five short of a maiden century as his side racked up an impressive score of 319 for four on the first day of their second Test in Sri Lanka.

Balbirnie made 95 in Galle before a misjudged paddle sweep cost him his wicket, but as a skipper he will have been delighted by what was surely his country’s most accomplished day of batting in their brief history in the format.

Their best total in five previous Tests was 339 in their inaugural game but that record is almost certain to fall after a day that saw Paul Stirling and Lorcan Tucker make undefeated half-centuries of their own.

Stirling was forced to retire hurt on 74 after being struck down by cramp, with Tucker unbeaten on 78 as the Irish held pole position at stumps.

Ireland chose to bat first despite being rolled up for 143 and 168 in an innings defeat against the same opponents last time out, and lost both openers cheaply against the new ball.

Peter Moor, promoted from number six, was first to fall when Asitha Fernando had him lbw for five in his second over and James McCollum nicked a sharp turner from Prabath Jayasuriya with 10 to his name.

Balbirnie ignored the scoreboard pressure as he peeled off a 44-ball fifty, with eight boundaries along the way, but Harry Tector kept Sri Lanka moving when he thrashed Jayasuriya to mid-on to leave Ireland 89 for three.

Stirling, a recent arrival having rejoined the side following the first Test, showed no fear as he planted his third delivery for six and went on to take the aggressor role from his captain. Their stand of 115 – Ireland’s biggest to date – included just 37 from Balbirnie as Stirling went on the attack.

There were two more sixes, with Fernando and Ramesh Mendis launched into Stirling’s favourite hitting arc in the leg-side as he followed Balbirnie to fifty.

At 199 for three at tea, Ireland were sitting pretty, but early in the evening session the sapping humidity of Galle and Stirling’s lack of acclimatisation time appeared to get the better of him. He tumbled to floor after facing up to Fernando and received treatment before deciding he was in no state to continue.

Balbirnie continued in pursuit of a prized century alongside the lively Tucker but fell while desperately close to the line, aiming to flip Mendis over his shoulder but succeeding only in a gentle mis-hit to slip.

Tucker led the way as he and Curtis Campher set their sights on the close, passing his half-century in 71 balls of calm accumulation, with 55 runs off the final 10 overs providing a late shot in the arm.