Ireland suffer stage fright in losing to Australia
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
Ireland's four warm-up matches to the World Twenty20 were, apparently, just that. They are still notoriously slow starters to tournaments and, yet again, they have lost their opening match.
The performance wasn't quite as bad as two years ago in Guyana when they were bowled out for 68 by West Indies, but from captain William Porterfield's dismissal off the first ball of the match, Australia had Ireland on the back foot and they never recovered.
Paul Stirling, their big hope at the top of the order, was caught on the thirdman boundary in the fourth over and although the O'Brien brothers put on 52 for the fifth wicket, more than twice as many as the next best partnership, both were out in the same over and Ireland needed 20 off the last two overs just to total 123 for seven.
It was never going to be enough and when Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston conceded 12 and 19 respectively in their second overs, it was a question of when not if Australia would win.
George Dockrell ended the opening stand with his seventh ball but by that stage the destructive Shane Watson and David Warner had helped themselves to 60 in seven overs and, in the end, the Ireland bowlers did well to keep them in the field for another eight overs.
It probably was not long enough, though, because a run-rate of -2.09 is not the base to approach a must-win match against West Indies, back here at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, on Monday. Indeed, Ireland's only hope now would appear to be Australia beating West Indies in the next Group B game on Saturday and leaving Ireland's remaining group game as a straight fight to see who joins the Aussies in next week's Super Eight.
Porterfield had no explanation for the Ireland performance, admitting: "We have played enough cricket to know that's not where we are at. We are better than that. We should be giving ourselves a chance.
"It was a good wicket, a good outfield (that's why he chose to bat first) but we needed another 40-45 runs. We backed ourselves to go out there and put on a good total but we let ourselves down.
"We did everything right in the build-up to this game, played some pretty good cricket against a couple of good sides (Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) and we're disappointed the way we performed.
"The top six has to score the bulk of the runs and the lower order can then bat with freedom. We didn't do that today and now have four days to put that right before the West Indies game."
Kevin O'Brien threatened to repeat his heroics on the world stage last year (Ireland lost their opening match to Bangladesh then) and had struck five fours in his 35 but, looking to steer Shane Watson over the wicket-keeper's head he didn't get enough on it and Watson had his third wicket.
The Australian all-rounder seems to do everything in this team, opening both the bowling and batting, he also bowled the last over and, after scoring 51 from 30 balls, as man of the match he took the Press conference.
"We were out to make a statement and were really up for it. Ireland have highly skilled players and it was nice to be able to nullify them with both bat and ball. If we are at our best then we know we can challenge any team in the tournament," said Watson who also confirmed it was his plan to start with a short ball.
"The short ball was to show the intent rather than a wicket ball and that it was their captain was an important point in the game. We knew Stirling was a quality hitter of the ball so that was an important wicket, as well as Kevin O'Brien."
Ireland's team selection – the inclusion of Nigel Jones instead of Max Sorensen - suggested they were happy with Alex Cusack and Kevin O'Brien as back-up seamers because, in the event, Jones did not bowl a ball and George Dockrell came on in the sixth over and spin twin Stirling in the ninth.
Porterfield, though, laid no blame on his bowlers.
"We took a couple of quick wickets in the middle and if we had runs on the board we would have had a chance because it wasn't easy for a new batsman to start. But you can't fault the bowlers because it's always difficult trying to defend six an over on a pretty good pitch. Bowling first or batting first we had to set the tone and we didn't do that."
Afghanistan fared no better in the second match of the day, under the Premadasa floodlights, against India although at least their bowlers created chances which the fielders repeatedly squandered. The Afghans also bowled 15 balls in the last two overs from which India scored 28 to finish on 159 for five. It all proved crucial as India won by 23 runs.