<
>

Prasanna just misses fastest ODI hundred as Ireland thumped again

Sri Lanka 377 for 8 (Perera 135, Prasanna 95, Murtagh 3-66) beat Ireland 241 (McBrine 79, Lakmal 4-38) by 136 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

When he walked out as Sri Lanka's No. 3, his eighth batting position in 24 ODI innings, Seekkuge Prasanna had an ODI average of 9.19. No one would have imagined that he would come within one blow of breaking one of Sri Lankan cricket's most cherished records.

On April 2, 1996 in Singapore, Sri Lanka played their first match since the country's World Cup win, in Lahore. Liberated by the moment, Sanath Jayasuriya doubled down on the methods that had contributed to Sri Lanka's most famous day, and ravaged a 48-ball century.

The record has held for two decades without serious challenge: besides Jayasuriya himself, no other Sri Lankan has scored an ODI ton in under 70 balls. Yet Prasanna belied his lack of batting pedigree to come closer than anyone else.

His very first ball hinted at the violence that was to come. An offspinner from Andy McBrine looped up invitingly, and was smited over long off for an emphatic six. The shot spoke of how the situation empowered Prasanna to heave from ball one: he was promoted up the order after Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka had added 147 for the opening wicket.

Each of Prasanna's heaves over the legside boundary seemed more emphatic than the last. If the shots lacked finesse, they made up for it with timing and power: one nonchalant pick-up off Boyd Rankin over square leg was particularly imperious, seeming to mock the man stationed for the exact shot.

Few situations will lend themselves so gladly to empowering Prasanna to heave without regard for his wicket as today, but the innings holds out the promise that he will establish himself as a dangerous floater in the line-up. The only shame was that, attempting another smear over the legside to hit his 10th six, he was bowled by Tim Murtagh five runs shy of Jayasuriya's record with two balls to beat it.

Overshadowed by Prasanna, Perera's innings came to seem almost like a throwback to a more genteel age of ODI cricket; his shirt was nameless, which seemed to embody his relative anonymity.

Not that he was remotely prosaic: 135 came at well over a run-a-ball. If Prasanna's innings was defined by clearing the legside ropes, the abiding image of Perera's was of crisp driving through the offside, often over the heads of those in the 30-yard circle.

The upshot of their contrasting innings, and of Gunathilaka's carefully compiled innings, was that Ireland needed some admirable death bowling - just 15 runs came from the final three overs - to restrict Sri Lanka to under 300.

On a benign pitch, Ireland's bowlers were too often guilty of bowling full tosses. Less tangibly, Ireland are a less abrasive side to play against than in the days when Trent Johnston, John Mooney and Niall O'Brien - the latter two reunited in the commentary box, O'Brien torn calf rendering him unable to play for another month - combined to antagonise batsmen.

At times during Sri Lanka's assault, Ireland seemed alarmingly quiet. At least Ireland just about retained their sense of humour: when Prasanna and Perera had fallen in quick succession and Sri Lanka were 310 for 3, Kevin O'Brien chirped: "Come on lads, make it 320 for 5 here".

Ireland have built their cricketing reputation upon chasing steep targets, but here was a task of a different order to their heists in Bangalore or Nelson. After the top three were dismissed early on - Maharoof ending a wait of 1556 days for an international wicket when Ed Joyce lashed a wide delivery into the hands of Gunathilaka at point - the rest of the day was so lacking in intensity that it was possible to imagine this was not a full-fledged ODI, but merely an exhibition match, the sort of game that used to be Ireland's lot when Test teams deigned to visit.

Rather incongruously given the size of Ireland's beating, five Irish batsmen notched their highest scores. The most significant and heartening contribution came from McBrine.

His stylish drives though the offside, the hooked six that brought up his half-century and a contemptuous pull off Angelo Matthews when he dropped short, were not the futile shots of a late-order swinger, but rather those of a player with the capacity to bat in the top seven against Test opposition. Sage judges reckon that, having played his first innings in an ODI at number eleven, McBrine will develop into a batting allrounder.

At least McBrine's crisp late shots, and a huge towering straight six by Boyd Rankin, gave the Malahide crowd some cheer on a day when three Irish sports teams were defeated in the space of one afternoon. But with next week's ICC meeting, which Ireland will hope will see the world game move towards more inclusive structures in both Test and ODI cricket, looming, Ireland's emphatic defeat was ill-timed.