All-round Watson knocks down Ireland
Australia 125 for 3 (Watson 51) beat Ireland 123 for 7 (Kevin O'Brien 35, Watson 3-26, Starc 2-20) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A commanding performance from Shane Watson delivered a handsome opening World Twenty20 victory for Australia over Ireland, as George Bailey's team showed aggressive intent to pursue the one trophy missing from the national team's display cabinet.
Ireland had fancied their chances of upsetting Australia, but were left with their odds of progression diminished and their ears ringing from a few verbal barbs delivered by opponents in no mood to be accommodating to a team they had briefly been ranked below on the ICC's T20 rankings earlier this month.
Watson influenced proceedings from the first ball of the match, a bouncer Ireland's captain Will Porterfield hooked to fine leg. He returned to the bowling crease to snuff out a mid-innings revival, then smashed 51 to ensure a modest chase that never assumed anything more than nuisance dimensions.
Mitchell Starc and Hogg also delivered telling spells to help keep Ireland quiet, their 20 overs devoid of sustained momentum save for a rearguard stand of 50 between Kevin and Niall O'Brien from the depths of 33 for 4. Kevin O'Brien hinted at the mastery he had shown against England in the 2011 World Cup, but both he and his brother were out-thought by Watson in the same over.
Aside from Watson's all-round prowess, the other hallmark of Australia's display was their aggression, manifested in a series of verbal stoushes with their opponents. The umpires intervened more than once, and no-one was left in any doubt about the Australians intent to make life as uncomfortable as possible for their opposition.
Australia's pursuit needed to be dogged by early wickets for Ireland to have a chance, but Watson and David Warner played with plenty of sense. They were helped by a wayward Boyd Rankin, who gave away four wides on the way to conceding 12 runs from the third over. Trent Johnston was taken for 19 in the fourth, and from that moment the result never seemed in any great doubt.
George Dockrell accounted for Warner, who punched to deep midwicket, and Paul Stirling almost grasped a one-handed return catch from Watson. Having failed to take the half chance, both Stirling and Dockrell were to feel the brunt of Watson's power, Australia's vice-captain posting a half century from his 28th ball. An overly languid run through to the non-striker's end was punished by Johnston's direct hit, but by then Watson had done more than enough to put victory within sight and also underline his importance to Australia's campaign.
Michael Hussey was lbw to Kevin O'Brien, and Cameron White offered a difficult chance that Johnston put down off Rankin, leaving Australia to conclude their chase with less certainty than Watson and Warner had started it.
Watson had taken the new ball for Australia, a move Ireland's captain Porterfield would have noted from the warm-up games. What he did not expect was a first-ball bumper, as Watson tested the bounce to be extracted from a flint-hard Premadasa pitch. The ball was well-directed, Porterfield's hook shot was hurried, and Mitchell Starc sauntered in from fine leg to take the catch.
There were runs to be found in the pitch, Stirling cracking the final ball of the over to the cover fence to prove it, but Australia's bowlers were sharp and varied enough to prevent Ireland from finding any sort of rhythm. Starc found a little swing but it was bounce that did for Stirling, his top edge sailing high for Watson to make a testy running catch look routine.
Bailey introduced Maxwell's off-breaks for the sixth over, and was rewarded when Ed Joyce toe-ended a drive to mid off. Brad Hogg's introduction followed, and he too struck in his opening over when Gary Wilson played around a delivery pitching in line and straightening to win Aleem Dar's lbw verdict. None of Ireland's batsmen looked entirely capable of reading Hogg's variations.
Ireland were stuck in the T20 predicament of early wickets, the halfway point passing at a wobbly 46 for 4. The brothers O'Brien were left to fashion a salvaging partnership, Kevin O'brien hinting at his potential for destruction with a handful of boundaries. He responded to taunts from the Australian fieldsmen by clattering Starc through midwicket and cover, and the 50-stand was raised. But Niall O'Brien was unable to follow suit, bowled by Watson's slower ball when trying to heave across the line.
Watson was delivering a keynote spell, and he made it more so by coaxing Kevin O'Brien to touch a shortish, sharpish delivery on its way through to Matthew Wade. Called on to deliver the last over of the innings as well as the first, Watson allowed the innings' only six to Nigel Jones, but the concession of 12 from the final six balls still left Australia's batsmen with a chase they were always likely to negotiate in some comfort.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here