Jayawardene saves Sri Lanka's blushes
Sri Lanka 144 for 9 (Jayawardene 78, Cusack 4-18) beat Ireland 135 for 7 (Malinga 2-18) by nine runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Mahela Jayawardene saved his team's blushes with 78 from 53 balls, as Sri Lanka moved a step closer to the semi-finals with an awkward but ultimately comfortable nine-run victory over the unfancied Irish at Lord's. After winning the toss and batting first, Sri Lanka were restricted to a modest total of 144 for 9 by a disciplined Ireland bowling performance in which the medium-pacer Alex Cusack excelled with 4 for 18 in three overs. In reply, Will Porterfield and Niall O'Brien raised the prospect of a famous win by adding 59 for the first wicket, but the variety and experience of Sri Lanka's attack eventually proved overwhelming.
At Trent Bridge on Thursday, Ireland had been no match for New Zealand as they slumped to an 83-run defeat, but this time they remained competitive even after a damaging double setback in the 15th over of their reply, when Ajantha Mendis removed both the dangerous O'Brien brothers, Kevin and Niall, in the space of four deliveries. Ireland carried on swinging until the bitter end, even as Lasith Malinga further undermined their chase with consecutive yorkers to bowl Trent Johnston and Andre Botha, but their final requirement of 18 runs from Malinga's final over of the innings unsurprisingly proved too much.
For Sri Lanka, Ireland's challenge came as an unpleasant but timely jolt after their impressive progress in the tournament to date. Their aspirations of a 200-plus total were knocked as early as the second ball of the match, as Tillakaratne Dilshan - their batsman of the tournament so far - top-edged the recalled Boyd Rankin into the safe gloves of Niall O'Brien, running round to square leg.
Rankin, who had been rested during Ireland's 83-run drubbing against New Zealand, caused problems galore with his extra lift off a good length, and when Johnston at the Pavilion End removed Kumar Sangakkara for 3 from 10, courtesy of another smart catch from O'Brien, Sri Lanka had been restricted 28 for 2 in their six Powerplay overs - second only to England's 25 for 3 against South Africa as the slowest start to any innings in the tournament so far.
Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya pieced together the innings with a third-wicket stand of 67 in 49 balls, but it was a becalmed performance by their usual pyrotechnic standards, and it wasn't until the 11th over of the innings that they finally scored their first and only six, as Jayawardene cracked Cusack over midwicket.
Jayasuriya, so dangerous when offered width, didn't clear the ropes once in his run-a-ball 27, an innings that came to an end when he went down on one knee to slog-sweep the spin of McCallan, and was adjudged lbw much to his chagrin. McCallan, who bowled with guile and deception, then added a second wicket one over later, when Chamara Silva this time connected as he swung across the line, but picked out Rankin on the square-leg fence.
With overs running out, Sri Lanka squandered their wickets with a puff of aggressive smears. Jehan Mubarak skied Cusack to Niall O'Brien, running round to short cover, and Cusack followed up three balls later with the key scalp of Jayawardene, who gave himself too much room for the cut, and was bowled with 12 deliveries remaining. Nuwan Kulasekera clobbered his third delivery, from Rankin, to John Mooney at long-off, before Angelo Mathews stepped outside the line to sweep and was bowled behind his legs by Cusack.
One delivery later, and Cusack had four when Muttiah Muralitharan charged down the track to be stumped, and he could even have claimed an incredible fifth from the last ball of the innings, had Kevin O'Brien at long-on managed to intercept an Ajantha Mendis slog that bounced away for four.
With a manageable target of 145 in his sights, Ireland's captain, Will Porterfield, took it upon himself to launch their reply in style, as he hoisted Mathews through midwicket for four, before milking Kulasekera for three boundaries in six balls, including a guided cut through a packed off-side field and a sweetly timed sweep from consecutive deliveries.
At the other end, however, disaster very nearly struck when Niall O'Brien backed up too far as Porterfield belatedly turned down a quick single to short cover, and ricked his troublesome right ankle as he stopped, slid and flung himself on all fours back into his crease. During a lengthy delay it appeared as though O'Brien's tournament might be over, but eventually he returned to his feet and, without the aid of a runner, set about taking the attack back to Sri Lanka.
Although he was hobbling visibly, O'Brien's first shot in anger after his injury was a spectacular reverse pull off Mendis that belied any apparent lack of mobility, and he followed up with two fours in two balls as Mathews returned to the attack in the ninth over - the first a crisp cover-drive, the second a more fortuitous inside-edge. Though Porterfield was caught behind two balls later off Muralitharan, his 31 from 29 balls had given Ireland a platform to attack, with 86 still required from the final 10.5 overs.
Murali, however, proved typically tough to get away, as did Jayasuriya, whose solitary over went for seven runs. When Malinga served up a brilliant second over of yorkers, bouncers and genuine pace, Ireland's requirement had leapt to exactly ten an over. Andrew White made good on that demand when he pulled Kulasekera over backward square for six before drilling him through the covers for four one ball later.
But before the over was finished, White's aggression brought about his downfall as Kumar Sangakkara snaffled a top-edged scoop off the pads, and Ireland's hopes were extinguished in the next over when both O'Brien brothers fell in the space of four balls. Kevin O'Brien attempted a wild slog through midwicket but steepled a swirling catch to Tillakaratne Dilshan, before Niall charged at a short ball that tweaked past his blade, and Sangakkara completed a regulation stumping.
After that bodyblow, Ireland's challenge fell away, although Mooney kept them fighting to the bitter end with 31 not out from 21 balls. After their disappointing performance against New Zealand, this was a timely display against one of the acknowledged tournament favourites, but now there will only be pride to play for in their final Super Eight fixture against Pakistan later this week.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo