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May 5, 2014
"The weather is our main challenge", admitted Angelo Mathews as the wind howled in across Dublin Bay yesterday. The Sri Lankan captain was speaking ahead of the first of the two-match RSA Insurance ODI series against Ireland at the Clontarf club, the opening fixtures in a tour that takes in all three formats and concludes at Leeds seven weeks from now.
The Sri Lankans have been in England at the start of two of the last three summers, but Mathews noticed the difference. "It's colder in Ireland than the UK," he grinned. "A bit of sunshine would be nice."
The most popular man in the Sri Lankan party was the liaison officer who arrived shortly before training with a large carrier bag from a Dublin city sports store. Inside were the sporting equivalent of long johns, the thermal underclothing that the Irish swear by to keep the winter chills at bay.
Even the local players were well wrapped up as they went through their drills with coach Phil Simmons, and the grey clouds and weather forecast was the main topic of conversation among players and groundstaff.
The Ireland captain, William Porterfield, knows that the conditions will assist his team as they seek their first big scalp at the venue. "The last few one-dayers we played here we've been able to utilise the conditions, especially by taking early wickets", he said. "Early in the season the ball will do a bit and the seamers are looking forward to it.
"What we have to do now is to keep taking wickets in the middle overs to set ourselves up. We've been looking at our death bowling - over the two Pakistan games and against England last year we let ourselves down."
In each of those games Ireland got themselves into winning positions only for it to slip from their grasp.
"We were disappointed with the second Pakistan game not to get over the line from position we were in. There were times when we slackened off but we need to be able to nail teams," said Porterfield.
His batsmen have been in excellent form, none less than Ed Joyce, who made 482 first-class runs in April for Sussex. "Ed has been one of the stand-out players in England, and Nobby [Niall O'Brien] also got a big hundred last week. I've had a couple of good starts myself, and guys like Kevin O'Brien have had good innings at home. I hope now we can all bring that out into the middle for Ireland."
Less encouraging has been the form of the bowlers. Spinner George Dockrell has been out of favour at Somerset and in a bid for some practice he turned out for Leinster Lightning at the weekend in the Newstalk Interprovincial Championship. The three Ireland bowlers on the Leinster side - Dockrell, Kevin O'Brien and Max Sorensen - returned combined figures of 29-2-150-0.
Sri Lanka arrive as newly-crowned World Twenty20 Champions, but also on a nine match winning streak in ODIs, including victory in the Asia Cup in March. Of that squad, five have been rested - Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thisara Perera, the latter because his visa was not sorted in time.
"We wanted to give the opportunity to the younger guys", explained Mathews. "They have been in and around the team for a while and they haven't had enough opportunities, so that was the main idea. I believe they can step in and do the job for us. All the younger guys are extremely talented and have enough potential to beat any team."
Porterfield had mixed feelings about facing a squad that, for all Mathews positivity, is undeniably weaker. "I can't say I'm too disappointed that Lasith Malinga didn't get on the plane," he grinned, "but they have a lot of good young cricketers with quite a bit of experience and they'll be champing at the bit to get going. We'd be foolish to take them lightly."
The Sri Lankans arrive in Clontarf just as the suburb celebrates the 1000th anniversary of a famous battle in which the Irish king, Brian Boru, repelled an invasion of Vikings led by Sitric Silkenbeard. That bloody Battle of Clontarf is still remembered in songs and stories, and while it's hard to imagine William Porterfield's name being revered a thousand years from now, victory over the invaders this week will ensure he finds his name in the cricket history books.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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