Bowlers guide Sri Lanka to easy win


While the thermals remained very much a necessity in Dublin, Sri Lanka warmed to the task laudably to record a very comfortable 79-run victory over Ireland in the first One-Day International.

One of the biggest challenges facing Sri Lanka, according to their captain Angelo Mathews, on the first leg of this six-week tour is to attune to the early-season conditions they'll encounter. While the thermals remained very much a necessity in Dublin, the visitors warmed to the task laudably to record, what was in the end a very comfortable 79-run victory over Ireland in the first One-Day International.

It was, however, another case of what could have been for the hosts as the hardy punters, who braved the piercing early-May elements, headed home disappointed. At the halfway stage, they had harboured hopes of another famous Full Member scalp – to add to their lengthening list – and a first on home soil: with good reason too. A dogged and unrelenting bowling display from Phil Simmons' side – restricting the visitors to 220/8 – had made them favourites on a surface that yielded full value for shots.

Not for the first time, though, Ireland were left to rue a missed opportunity. From the moment destructive opener Paul Stirling was bowled by Nuwan Kulasekara in the second over of the chase, the odds on what would have been deemed an upset lengthened. William Porterfield and Niall O'Brien steadied proceedings thereafter but a five over period, in which Ireland went from 63/2 to 74/6, drained any life from the innings and prompted many of those in the stands to seek refuge in the warmth of an inner sanctuary.

For, Marvan Attapatu, the newly appointed Sri Lankan head coach, is was a satisfactory, if not perfect, start to his reign. There will be reservations about the application of some of the batsmen in conditions likely to be faced across the water but the ignominy of a defeat to an Associate, in his first game in charge, was avoided.

The most pleasing aspect of the win for the new management will, nonetheless, be the manner in which it was achieved. With five of their fabled stalwarts missing, their deputies stood up and showcased their proficiency at the highest level.

It was, however, a couple of proven performers that wrestled the ascendancy from the vigorous hosts in the space of a couple of overs. Having bludgeoned an unbeaten 42 with the bat, Kulasekara bowled with great discipline on his way to two wickets while Ajantha Mendis and Suranga Lakmal took three apiece to run through the Irish order.

Lakmal found the edge of Ed Joyce (0) and then returned to account for the dangerous Kevin O'Brien, who mis-timed a pull shot straight to mid-wicket first ball, and then Alex Cusack. By that stage, Ireland's hopes had gone on the back of an ultimately decisive five over period. Niall O'Brien had played positively and looked in good touch as he crunched five boundaries around the ground but become Mendis' first victim on 33.

His departure sparked a collapse. The next over, a horrible mix-up between Porterfield and Gary Wilson saw both batsmen find themselves at the same end, and although the Irish skipper tried to sacrifice himself, it was Wilson who had to go. Porterfield tried to atone for his error but only managed to swat Mendis to Kusal Perera at deep mid-wicket for 37 either side of the wickets of Stuart Thompson and Cusack. The tail provided some late resistance but only added gloss to the scorecard that showed Ireland's lowest total at the North Dublin venue in ODIs.

It was the shortcomings with the ball in the recent World Twenty20 and defeats to Pakistan and England that proved the downfall for Ireland, but on this occasion it was roles reversed.

There was little surprise William Porterfield, upon winning the toss, asked the tourists to bat first on a surface that was expected to aim the seamers, in particular. His bowlers managed to utilise the favourable conditions from the outset as Tim Murtagh struck in the first over to set the tone for what was to follow.

After Perera had trudged back to the pavilion, caught at second-slip by Kevin O'Brien, the World Twenty20 champions dropped anchor. Both Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal were watchful in approach, but after managing to negotiate the initial onslaught neither could kick-on.

Porterfield rotated his bowlers to great effect as the hosts managed to take wickets at regular intervals to maintain a stranglehold of proceedings. Mathews threatened to take wrestle back some ascendancy but his charmed existence came to an end on 30 when he was brilliantly run-out by Niall O'Brien. The departure of the captain, however, provided the platform for the lower-order to free their arms.

Firstly, Kulasekara swatted Cusack over mid-on for a flat six, and in the same over, dabbed one down to third man for a second boundary and he was ably supported by Ashan Priyanjana, who scored an impressive 31.

Mendis provided some impetus with a flurry of boundaries, including an incredible reverse-sweep off fast-bowler Max Sorensen in the final over, to thrust his side up past the 200 mark. At the end of play, Mathews admitted 'he was always confident of defending the total' but he could never have envisaged it was going to be that easy.

<b>Ryan Bailey in Dublin</b>