'When we left Sri Lanka these were the targets we set - getting to the semi-finals and looking forward from that' - Jayawardene © Getty Images

They may never have threatened to extend their stay beyond the Super Eights, but Ireland have at least provided a barometer of the merits of the other contenders in the tournament. Honest, dogged and never-say-die, they have seen off Pakistan and the Bangladeshis, given England a run for their money, been pretty heavily beaten by West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand, and been roundly thumped by Australia and now Sri Lanka, who today re-established their credentials as one of the tournament's top two contenders. Only the best, it seems, have been able to embarrass them.

It was a crushing performance from Sri Lanka who needed just 37.4 overs - five fewer than the Aussies needed in Barbados last week - to wrap up their most emphatic win of the campaign. Muttiah Muralitharan looked rejuvenated and refocussed after his enforced lay-off, while Farvez Maharoof's four wickets ensured that there will be plenty of competition for bowling places come the semi-final, which now seems certain to be against New Zealand in Jamaica.

"It was a really good performance today because we made sure that we put our foot down," said Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's captain, who brushed aside suggestions that they could have done with a sterner test with the semis looming. "We've played enough competitive games," he added. "Ireland has been a really good side. They performed really well against some of the sides and they've had a brilliant World Cup. We had to make sure we played some really good cricket to put them down today."

"They are a quality outfit and they showed us up," said Trent Johnston, Ireland's captain. "We started quite well, then lost three wickets in one over and never really recovered from that. Then, when you bring [Muralitharan] the best spin bowler in the world on, who we've never seen before, you've got a recipe for disaster."

Murali bamboozled Ireland's middle order with three wickets in seven balls, but their fighting qualities still shone through in adversity as the lower-order planted their front feet down the wicket and swung through the line. "At least Dave Langford-Smith and Boyd Rankin can say they've hit the best spin bowler in the world for four," said Johnston. "You want to play the best and it's been a credit to us that every team has put their best team against us. We are potentially a massive banana skin."

'You want to play the best and it's been a credit to us that every team has put their best team against us' - Johnston © AFP

For all the ease of their victory, it wasn't all plain sailing for Sri Lanka, and the form of their opener, Upul Tharanga is now a cause for concern. He has managed just two half-centuries in nine innings in the tournament, and just 17 runs in his last three efforts.

"That's something we'll have to think about," said Jayawardene. "He's hitting the ball pretty well but he's just not spending time out there in the middle."

Sri Lanka's reserve opener is the former captain, Marvan Atapattu, who has not played since the tour of India. "Marvan is an experienced player in our ranks who can step into the shoes if it's necessary," added Jayawardene. "We'll have a chat with the selectors, the senior group and see in Jamaica."

Another decision that will need to be made in Jamaica, for the semi-final, is the recall of Lasith Malinga, who has been recuperating from a torn left ankle ligament. "He's probably 90 percent okay," said Jayawardene. "We probably should have played him today but we didn't want to take the risk. We have a few more days now, almost a week, before the next game.

"He's bowled ten overs in the nets this morning with no problems," added Jayawardene. "We just need to make sure he gradually comes up. We don't want to take too many risks. He should be ready to go in the semi-finals, definitely." Dilhara Fernando, however, is in some doubt. He missed this match after playing against Australia with an ankle problem, and had to watch as Maharoof staked his claim in the starting line-up. "He had two injections," said Jayawardene, "and he needs to prove his fitness.

"The semi-final is a very big hurdle for us to jump," he said. "We're looking forward to it. When we left Sri Lanka these were the targets we set - getting to the semi-finals and looking forward from that. We've come a long way and there's no looking back for us now. We'll give it our best shot, combination-wise."

Even so, in his capacity as chief barometer, Johnston still felt that the Australians were the most formidable outfit his team had encountered. Perhaps that was to be expected from a man who was brought up in Sydney, but it was hard to argue with his reasoning.

"They've got everything covered," said Johnston. "They've got pace, [Brad] Hogg is bowling well, and if [Shane] Watson comes back that balances them perfectly - he's crucial to them I believe. And their top order is fantastic. But New Zealand look pretty good with [Shane] Bond, and they have got two good spinners and guys that bat and bowl in the middle order. South Africa look dangerous as well and can be pretty awesome on their day. But in my opinion, it'll be Australia and Sri Lanka in the final."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo