Ireland bowlers struggle yet again
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
The Ireland squad fly into Abu Dhabi on Saturday morning looking for a place in the World Twenty20 qualifiers but unless they find a steady opening bowler to share the new ball with Trent Johnston then it could be mission impossible despite their undoubted batting talent.
Johnston missed Thursday's final game in the T20 Quadrangular tournament in Colombo against Sri Lanka A because of food poisoning and Ireland duly conceded 178 runs in 18.2 overs as the hosts completed their third successive win of the week and condemned Ireland to their second defeat.
With Phil Eaglestone in a Colombo A & E department getting his swollen ankle checked - it is only sprained but his tour is probably over - Boyd Rankin back in England nursing a sore foot and Peter Connell just off the plane from London as a new dad and forced to play, Ireland were always going to need a massive total to see off their talented hosts. Just for good measure, Andre Botha, their best 'death bowler', was also rested.
They actually made their highest ever T20 total, bettering Wednesday's score against Canada by two runs, but it was still nowhere near enough after the Sri Lankans piled up 51 runs in their first three overs.
Connell's first over went for 14, Cusack's opener - the second of the innings - for 20 with a six, two fours and five wides and Connell's second included four more boundaries out of 17 before Cusack reined it in with just nine runs, including another six, in the fourth.
Amid the mayhem, Cusack was actually on a hat-trick after taking a wicket off the last ball of his first over and the first of his second but for a while it did not seem to matter which batsman was facing, the boundaries flowed.
Kevin O'Brien was the only bowler in the first eight overs not to concede at least one boundary in a period of six balls before Nigel Jones did himself no harm for a place in next week's line-ups with a four over spell which cost only 22 runs, with just one four.
George Dockrell after two games to remember, found out life in the big time is not always so simple - his two overs went for 22 but at least he got a wicket, caught at long-on, which is more than left arm spin twin Gary Kidd managed at two runs more expensive.
Also missing on Thursday was William Porterfield, and his absence gave the selectors another option for next week. Paul Stirling was promoted to open, with captain for the day Niall O'Brien, and showed his big-hitting prowess with five fours and a big six in his 35-ball 43, sharing a partnership of 104 with the the new skipper who brought up a second successive 50 in 34 balls with five fours and two maximums.
Frustratingly, O'Brien was out again just three balls later and while the rest of the batsmen all scored at better than a run a ball only Gary Wilson made a significant contribution. His unbeaten 25 off 21 balls gave him an average of 96 for his four games in Sri Lanka.
But the real stuff begins next Tuesday and after three defeats in four games, Ireland will be desperate to get back to winning ways when they return to action against Canada in their final warm-up game in Sharjah on Sunday.