For a few overs yesterday Planet Cricket was slipping off its axis again. The balance was eventually restored to what passes for normality in the World Twenty20 but not before Ireland had pushed Sri Lanka all the way.
This Super Eight contest was another splendid advertisement for the shortest form of the game and its demands on skill and nerve. Sri Lanka, recently installed as genuine contenders, prevailed by nine runs and to do so they required precisely those qualities. They are not quite the complete team but they have enough flair in all departments to ensure they will not be easily dislodged from the competition. Top of their Super Eight group, the semi-finals are beckoning loudly. Ireland's realistic hopes were not finally extinguished until they were three-quarters of the way through their pursuit of the 145 they needed.
Like many sides before them – and probably a couple more this week – they were throttled by the spin combination of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, the master and the apprentice. In the 15th over of their innings, Ireland lost two wickets to Mendis while scoring only three runs, and in the 16th from Murali they added only three more.
That was the end of the match as a contest but Ireland have been worth their place at the high table, where they have done much more than make up the numbers and have engaged their superiors throughout. Ireland's captain, William Porterfield, said: "We bowled and batted pretty well but we just fell short. It was our aim to win a game in the Super Eights and we will be giving that a big go tomorrow."
From Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's captain, there was an undoubted sense of relief. "We lacked a bit of intensity and that's what we have to work on," he said. Sri Lanka had much the worse of it at the start of both innings. If they were indebted to their spinners for sealing the victory, it was their erstwhile captain Mahela Jayawardene who ensured that they secured a viable total. Sri Lanka lost two wickets within the opening four overs including Tillakaratne Dilshan, the sensation of the tournament.
His departure when he mis-hooked the second ball of the match delighted Ireland. But many observers might have felt deprived of the chance to see "the Dilscoop" in action, the spectacular new stroke for which the batsman gets down on one knee as if about to ask a father for his daughter's hand in marriage – and then hoists the ball behind the wicketkeeper.
Sangakkara followed shortly afterwards to give wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien a second catch (of three) and some serious regrouping was necessary. Jayawardene's partnership with the veteran left-hander Sanath Jayasuriya did not take Sri Lanka to sunlit uplands but they were certainly out of the woods. Jayasuriya was a model of restraint in this period and was just getting round to unloading some big shots when he was leg before to Kyle McCallan, a decision with which he patently disagreed – perhaps with justification.
Sri Lanka's innings rather tailed off as they became the improbable victims of Alex Cusack, who took four wickets in nine balls including that of Jayawardene. Ten more runs and Ireland would have been out of it but as it was they had given themselves a sniff.
For once, they sent in their two best batsmen at the top of the order and neither Porterfield nor Niall O'Brien was found wanting. They put on 59 for the first wicket. The pace was slightly too sedate but they had to keep wickets in hand. They knew Mendis and Muralitharan, who had been introduced early, would return. The thought must have prayed on them.
Porterfield was first to go in the 10th over but it was only when Mendis accounted for both the O'Brien brothers – first Kevin and then Niall – both going for glory that the destiny of the match was settled.
There was still time for a concluding Irish flourish to reduce the deficit to something more appropriate to their contribution. They have served the associate membership of the ICC well and may care to remember that the victors yesterday were themselves associate members a mere 27 years ago.
Super Eights: Teams and schedule
*Group E: India, England, West Indies, South Africa.
Group F: Pakistan, Ireland, Sri Lanka, New Zealand.
*Today: England v West Indies, Pakistan v Ireland (The Oval). Tomorrow: New Zealand v Sri Lanka, South Africa v India (Trent Bridge).
Thursday and Friday: Semi-finals (Trent Bridge and The Oval).
Sunday: Final (Lord's).Reuse content