Wanindu Hasaranga and Pathum Nissanka smashed brilliant fifties while mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana claimed 3-17 as Sri Lanka crushed Ireland by 70 runs in the group A encounter in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, to qualify for the Super 12 stage of the competition.
Ireland started things off in emphatic fashion when Paul Stirling trapped Kusal Perera leg before off the second ball. Before Sri Lanka could recover, Josh Little dazzled with a fine spell of seam bowling. He first got Dinesh Chandimal to chop on to his stumps and then bowled Avishka Fernando off the very next ball. It was a jaw-dropping delivery that sneaked past Fernando’s front-foot push and hit the top of the off stump leaving Sri Lanka limping at 8/3 in 1.4 overs.
However, Ireland's happiness was short lived when Hasaranga joined Nissanka in the middle. The partnership began with Hasaranga’s classy cover drive off Little while Nissanka smacked two off Mark Adair’s fifth over. Hasaranga then turned things around in few minutes with four consecutive boundaries off Simi Singh’s sixth over.
The brutal conditions at the Shiekh Zayad Stadium then put the players under the pump. With one side of the boundary longer than the other and the field spread out, Hasaranga and Nissanka ran hard singles while finding the a boundary off every sloppy delivery. Hasaranga, who played 47 balls in total, ran 13 singles for himself and 17 for his partner, six doubles for his score and four more for Nissanka, slumped on his haunches from time to time as he survived three run-out chances.
The pair hit every Irish bowler to the fence adding 123 runs in 82 balls, the highest World T20 partnership for top four wickets. It finally came to an end in the 16th over when Hasaranga (71 off 47 balls; 10x4, 1x6) sliced Adair straight to Craig Young inside the circle. Little finished with a deserved 4-23 when he got Bhanuka Rajapaksa caught at deep square leg by Harry Tector and removed Nissanka (61 off 47 balls; 6x4, 1x6) off a keeper catch. Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka added the final blow with a 11-ball 21 as they posted 171/7 in 20 overs, a total that was beyond imagination early on in the innings.
Chasing a steep target, Irish opener Kevin O’Brien began with a boundary off his first ball against Chamika Karunaratne but top-edged the pacer to Maheesh Theekshana off the final ball. Stirling, Ireland’s best batter in the last two years, looked to get a move on when he welcomed rookie spinner Theekshana with a boundary but sweeped one straight to the fielder at backward point. Hasaranga added to his all-round performance when he sent back Gareth Delany with a deadly wrong-un that rattled the right hander’s off stump.
Captain Andy Balbirnie was joined by Curtis Campher as the pair added 53 runs for the fourth wicket. However, it came at a sluggish pace of 57 balls as the pair was unable to deal with the spinners, especially Theekshana’s carom ball. The spinner broke the resistance in the 13th over when knocked off Campher’s stumps with his trajectory.
Theekshana got his sixth wicket in two matches when keeper Kusal Perara caught Neil Rock short off his crease. Ireland batsmen queued up to the pavilion as they lost five wickets in the space for nine runs. It also included Mark Adair’s run-out by Dushmantha Chameera and Balbirnie’s effort of 41 off 39 balls coming to an end when was caught by Avishka Fernando in Lahiru Kumara’s 16th over.
While the spinners were impressive in the middle overs, pacers Chameera and Kumara bowled north of 140 clicks and were menacing with their seam movement with the new ball. Kumara bagged 2-22 while Chameera cleaned up Craig Young with a sensational yorker. Karunaratna, who began the proceedings, then brought an end to Ireland’s innings at 101 when bowled Josh Little in the 19th over.
The win for Sri Lanka meant they kept their top spot in Group A and qualified to the next round, while a win each for Ireland and Namibia means they will face off in a virtual eliminator on Friday. However, the net run rate will come into play if Netherlands, whose exit is already all but confirmed, defeat Sri Lanka in the final group game.