Sri Lanka leave Ireland bereft
Sri Lanka 219-8 (Kulasekara 43, Chandimal 39) beat Ireland 140 (Porterfield 37, N O'Brien 33, Mendis 3-27, Lakmal 3-29) by 79 runs
Ireland cricket fans have enjoyed the team's golden age of success, but they still take nothing for granted when they come to Clontarf. For 50 years they have been coming to watch Ireland at the Dublin club ground, and have yet to see them beat a full member. This was the 17th game since India first visited in 1967, and last year's tie against Pakistan and a 1980 draw against West Indies are still their best results.
Several times in recent years - especially early in the tepid Irish summer - William Porterfield's team has been in dominant positions only to find victory slip away from them, and this game followed that almost inevitable path.
Chasing 220 to beat Sri Lanka, the Irish batsmen found that the visitors' high-class bowlers enjoyed the seaming conditions just as much as their own attack had, and despite a couple of battling innings they went down by 79 runs, extending the Sri Lankans' winning run to ten ODIs.
Ireland's total of 140 was their lowest in an ODI on the ground.
The Irish seamers are well versed in using the local conditions, and kept Ireland on top until some late hitting from Nuwan Kulasekara and Ajantha Mendis hoisted the total over the 200 mark, which looked distant with ten overs to go and the score on 139 for 6.
The sky overhead provided its own narrative, with bright blue skies at the start giving over to a typically Dublin slate grey background, before the innings closed with angry clouds hovering as if a scene from Game of Thrones was about to be staged. Rain visited briefly, but not enough to drive the players from the battlefield.
William Porterfield called correctly and had no hesitation in asking Angelo Mathews to bat, and within four balls had reason for satisfaction. With the ball wobbling around, a good shout for leg before from Tim Murtagh was followed by an acrobatic diving catch by Kevin O'Brien at second slip as the ball left Kusal Perera.
Murtagh was almost unplayable as the Sri Lankans battled with the conditions to stay in the game. It took until the seventh over for the first boundary to be hit, and Lahiru Thirimanne was uncomfortable before Alex Cusack found his edge.
Before the game, Porterfield had called for his bowlers to keep the pressure on, pointing to the need to take wickets throughout the innings and not just at the start. His bowlers responded to the call, all bar Max Sorensen contributing to the wickets column.
O'Brien came up with another bit of gymnastic genius, this time off his own bowling, to dismiss Dinesh Chandimal just as he was looking dangerous. The Sri Lankan pushed an innocuous looking delivery wide of O'Brien, who dived wide to his left and clung on with one-hand. Next over Paul Stirling found Kithruwan Vithanage's edge with his second ball of the day, which went straight to Ed Joyce at slip and left the visitors on 95 for 5.
Ashan Priyanjan joined his captain to repair the innings but they were unable to find any fluency through the powerplay overs, which yielded just 20. Mathews was lucky to just clear Joyce at third man, but in the next over he pushed his luck once too often. Priyanjan tucked the ball around the corner and Mathews came half way down before being sent back. From fine leg, almost 40 metres away, Niall O'Brien threw the stumps down at the bowler's end and the Irish fielders erupted.
Kulasekara came in and smashed the only sixes of the day, sharing a sparkling stand with Mendis, but with Porterfield managing his bowling changes with skill, Murtagh returned to claim another scalp and finish with 2 for 21 off his ten overs.
The Irish innings started in rain, but there were soon more than drops of water falling. Paul Stirling edged Kulasekera onto his stumps, before Ed Joyce's deep purple patch ended when he wafted Suranga Lakmal to the keeper. At 5 for 2 Ireland's reply was in trouble, but Niall O'Brien counter-attacked and passed 1,500 runs in ODIs with his second scoring shot.
He and Porterfield played contrasting roles as they battled with the bowling. They had put on 58 - the only fifty stand of the day - when O'Brien nicked off. Clouds had gathered anew and D/L sheets were a'flapping when a flurry of wickets made them redundant.
First Porterfield called Gary Wilson for a tight run which was rejected. Porterfield continued his run towards the pavilion before the umpires called him back as he had overtaken Wilson. Two overs later Kevin O'Brien horribly mistimed a pull of Lakmal off the first ball he faced, watching in disgust as it fell in slow-motion into the hands of Senanayake at mid-wicket. The next over saw Stuart Thompson all at sea to Mendis, only using his feet to keep the ball from hitting the stumps, said the umpire.
That was 74 for 6 and all thoughts of that first win in Clontarf was gone. Porterfield battled on to make 37 off 87 balls and the tail clumped a few before Kulasekara was summoned to finish it off.
Any concerns that Mendis's fingers might seize up in the single digit temperatures were proved wrong with a man-of-the-match winning 10-1-26-3. The teams return to the same venue on Thursday with Ireland itching to level the series.