Ian Callender (Irish Daily Mail)
Bring on the Aussies. That was the cry from the Ireland squad in Colombo last night as they made final preparations for their return to the world stage.
The warm-up action was completed on Monday, with a fourth straight win, and this morning the serious stuff begins with their opening Group B game against Australia in the Premadasa Stadium.
A light work out yesterday made up National Coach Phil Simmons' mind on his team selection but, even before the exciting five runs, last-ball, revenge victory over Bangladesh, he had probably settled on his starting XI for the game likely to decide how long Ireland will be staying in Sri Lanka.
The exclusion of Max Sorensen for the third successive game was the big surprise on Monday but, significantly, The Hills' opening bowler had a full middle practice session of eight overs after the match and he is expected to return to face the Aussies, who lost their final warm-up game to defending champions England yesterday by nine runs.
Tim Murtagh, the Middlesex seamer, was not only left out of Monday's match but was confined to a fielding session after the match and Nigel Jones appears to have nipped ahead of him after an impressive spell which squeezed the momentum out of the Bangladesh side.
Jones took only one wicket but it was the vital one of Shakib-al-Hasan, who had just hit 52 off 23 balls, with five sixes and three fours and was easing the Tigers to their victory target of 165. Kevin O'Brien came on for the next over, the 12th, and three wickets in 10 balls from the Ireland vice-captain put his side in the driving seat again.
Yet, at the start of the penultimate over Ireland were second favourites again after an unbroken seventh wicket stand of 29. But they refused to give up, Alex Cusack dismissed Mashrafe Mortaza in an over which cost just two runs, leaving Trent Johnston with 10 runs to defend - four more than in the last game between the teams in Belfast in July which Ireland lost off the last ball.
This time the veteran pace bowler conceded only four runs and took two wickets in the last over and Ireland found that revenge was a dish served hot and humid, conditions which should have favoured the Asians.
The win had been set up by Paul Stirling who announced his return to form with 71 from 42 balls with 10 boundaries, half of them sixes, including three in a row off the off spinner Mahmuduallah's first three balls.
"I was thinking of six sixes (in the over) after the first ball" he cheekily admitted but "it didn't come off".
Stirling added: "But it's always nice to score a few runs which gives you confidence going into the tournament proper, so hopefully I'm peaking at the right time.
"We're playing great cricket as a team at the minute and to get four wins out of four is a massive confidence boost for the lads."
An in-form Stirling is the fast-track to success for Ireland as Kevin O'Brien admitted after the game.
"Stirlo's always in nick in the nets, strikes the ball as well as anyone in our team and all we need is eight or nine overs from him to put a big total on the board for us. So it was great to see him hit a bit of form, get runs under his belt and give him confidence going into Wednesday," said O'Brien.
Ireland's other group opponents, West Indies, eased past Afghanistan in their final warm-up game, reaching their target of 123 in the 16th over with Chris Gayle, ominously, scoring 65 not out from 48 balls with four sixes and five fours.
But captain William Porterfield is concentrating only on Ireland's performances.
"We have won big games before, that's why we are here and if we play our brand of cricket, we can get through to the Super Eights," he said.
The tournament got under way last night day in Hambantota, some 140 miles south of the capital, with hosts Sri Lanka easing past rank outsiders Zimbabwe in the opening match in a group which also includes South Africa.
England, after losing to the Netherlands on home soil in 2009 and saved by the rain against Ireland in Guyana at the last World Twenty20, will be wary of the banana skin which is Afghanistan this time. ICC World Cup holders India are the third team in Group A while, after
Bangladesh's unimpressive performance yesterday, New Zealand and Pakistan are expected to progress from Group D.
The format is unchanged from 2010 with the top two in each group going through to the Super Eights (September 27-October 2). Points are not carried forward and the top two at the second stage go through to the semi finals (October 4-5). The final will take place in the Premadasa Stadium on Sunday October 7.