Sri Lanka survive Irish scare
Sri Lanka survived a scare before putting one foot in the semifinals of the Twenty20 World Cup following their narrow nine-run win over minnows Ireland.
Sri Lanka are now sitting atop the Group F with four points from two wins. They had earlier beaten Pakistan. Electing to bat, Mahela Jayawardene hit a gutsy 53-ball 78 to save Sri Lanka blushes as a spirited Irish attack restricted the islanders to a modest 144 for nine.
However, Lankan bowlers lived up to their reputation and denied Ireland an upset win, restricting them to 135 for seven. Both Lasith Malinga (2/19) and Ajantha Mendis (2/22) bowled with fire and venom, putting up a clinical performance, to script Sri Lanka's win.
Irish Skipper William Porterfield (31) and Niall O'Brien (31) had provided a decent start to the minnows, knitting together 59 runs for the first wicket.
But the slow run rate dented their chances heavily and middle-order was left with a daunting task. John Mooney flourished late in the innings with unbeaten 31 but could not finish it off for his side.
Kumar Sangakkara rotated all his bowlers, including mystery spinner Mendis and wizard Muttiah Murlitharan, seeking early breakthrough but Ireland still got off to a decent start.
Porterfield scored the bulk of the runs, hitting some fine boundaries and Niall playing the second fiddle.
Muralitharan drew the first blood by inducing an edge from Porterfield, gleefully accepted by Kumar Sangakkara behind the wickets.
Malinga's nagging deliveries further stifled the Irish batsmen which resulted in required run-rate soaring up.
Andrew White broke the shackles by hitting Nuwan Kulasekara for a six and followed it by a four but the bowler had the last laugh in the same over.
It all boiled down to Brien brothers but Mendis removed both Niall, who was stumped, and Kevin (0) in the gap of three balls.
Malinga then struck twice in two balls dismissing Trent Johnston (7) and Andre Botha (0) and the writing was clear on the wall for Ireland.
Earlier, Sri Lanka were surprised by a charged up Irish attack which almost strangled them before Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya (27) revived the innings.
The old war horses shared a 67-run third wicket stand to bring some respectability to the Lankan innings.
Such was the dominance of Ireland's pacers at the start that a formidable Lankan batting line-up was made to look ordinary. Only 28 runs could be scored in the first six overs and the scorecard was reading just 67 at the half-way mark.
Alex Cusack was the star of the Irish attack with four wickets, giving away just 18 runs as mere three Lankan batsmen got double digit scores.
Starting the proceedings, Boyd Rankin (2/27) pitched one short that bounced a bit high and Tillakaratne Dilshan ended up hitting a skier in the hands of Niall.
Trent Johnston bowled in tandem with Rankin and gave the Lankans second shock when he had Sangakkara (3) caught behind.
Jayawardene and Jayasuriya combined well to steady the rocking ship but the duo was made to work hard for those runs as Johnston and Rankin kept a tight line out side off-stump which hardly gave the pair any chance to score freely.
They had to rely on ones and twos until spinner Regan West was introduced. Jayawardene found his touch as he played some elegant drives, hitting West for 14 runs in his second over, en route to his half-century. Just when the partnership started to look threatening, off spinner Kyle McCallan separated the duo by trapping Jayasuriya. He did not let new man in Chamara Silva settle either and sent him back to the dug out.
Cusack took two wickets in his second over, further denting the Lankan innings, sending back Jehan Mubarak (7) and Nuwan Kulasekra (1).
Jaywardene too departed while trying to accelerate towards the fag end of the innings.