Sri Lanka recovered from a nightmare start to record a comprehensive 70-run victory over Ireland and book their place in the Super 12s stage of the T20 World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Both sides came into Wednesday’s clash fresh from emphatic wins over Namibia and Netherlands respectively, but it was 2014 champions Sri Lanka who underlined their credentials, despite a dreadful start with the bat.
Wanindu Hasaranga (71 off 47) and Pathum Nissanka (61 off 47) batted magnificently in tandem as Sri Lanka rallied from 8-3 to post 171-7 from their 20 overs – the highest total of this year’s competition thus far.
Ireland’s innings failed to ignite, with captain Andy Balbirnie (41) and Monday’s hero Curtis Campher (24) the only players to register double figures against an impressive Sri Lanka bowling attack.
Maheesh Theekshana (3-17 off 4) showed his class, while Chamika Karunaratne (2-27) and Lahiru Kumara (2-22 off 4) picked up two wickets apiece, as Ireland slipped from 85-3 to 101 all out following an extraordinary capitulation at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
Ireland enjoyed the dream start; Kusal Perera succumbed to the second ball of the contest, before Dinesh Chandimal (6) and Avishka Fernando (0) perished to the irrepressible Josh Little (4-23 off 4), who was not able to replicate Campher’s hat-trick heroics from Monday.
Nissanka and Hasaranga were tasked with leading Sri Lanka’s recovery and they did so magnificently – Hasaranga wrestled back the initiative in the final over of the powerplay, dispatching a forlorn Simi Singh (0-41 off 3) for four consecutive boundaries.
The pair contributed to a sensational 123-run partnership as Sri Lanka raced to 130-3 from 15 overs, although Little and Mark Adair (2-35) claimed two wickets apiece to halt their charge in the latter stages – Adair securing his 50th T20I wicket in the process.
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However, Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka (21 no off 11) produced a sparkling late cameo, thumping Adair for 10 runs from the final two balls of the innings, and they maintained this momentum with the ball, as Ireland openers Kevin O’Brien (5) and Paul Stirling (7) both fell inside three overs.
Following his exploits with the bat, Hasaranga (1-12 off 4) starred with the ball to account for Gareth Delany (2), but Balbirnie and Campher provided spirited resistance, with a fourth-wicket stand worth 53 runs.
However, Sri Lanka’s disciplined attack restricted Ireland throughout, and Balbirnie’s side succumbed in rather tame fashion following a frenetic finale, as they lost their last seven wickets for just 16 runs in a 34-ball spell.
WHICH PLAYERS STARRED?
Josh Little – Ireland’s left-arm seamer plunged Sri Lanka into crisis by dismissing Chandimal and Fernando in consecutive balls in the second over, before returning to claim another two victims in the closing stages to post career-best T20I figures of 4-23. What a performance from the 21-year-old.
Wanindu Hasaranga – Hasaranga arrived at the crease with Sri Lanka teetering at 8-3, but the all-rounder wrestled back the initiative with his first T20I half-century, registering 11 boundaries in his terrific 47-ball knock.
Pathum Nissanka – The Sri Lanka opener was the epitome of composure with wickets tumbling around him in the opening stages. He was content with playing second fiddle to the explosive Hasaranga, but his classy 61 from just 47 balls helped stabilise matters for the 2014 champions.
Maheesh Theekshana – The 21-year-old off-break bowler has made a sparkling start to his World Cup career. Having snared three wickets in his opener against Namibia, he repeated the feat against Ireland, varying his pace magnificently to rip through their middle order.
Andy Balbirnie – Ireland’s captain led from the front with the bat against an accomplished Sri Lanka attack, making 41 from 39 balls in an innings featuring two sixes. Having Balbirnie in form ahead of Friday’s decisive clash against Namibia could be integral to their hopes of qualification.
In Group B, Scotland can seal qualification for the Super 12s with victory against Oman on Thursday afternoon, while The Tigers of Bangladesh take on Papua New Guinea earlier in the day.
In Group A, Ireland face Namibia in a winner-takes-all clash on Friday morning, while Sri Lanka, who are assured of their spot in the Super 12s stage, take on Netherlands, who will exit the tournament after taking on the 2014 champions.
Scotland are back in action against Oman on Thursday on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event from 2.30pm, with Bangladesh facing Papua New Guinea on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event from 10.30am earlier that day.