LONDON // Sri Lanka continue to present the most credible threat to the South African machine for the World Twenty20 title, despite being well short of their best in beating Ireland by nine runs at Lord's yesterday. William Porterfield's valiant Irish side did not let their illustrious rivals have everything their own way. Far from it. For large parts of the game they threatened to create an upset, before falling short at the last.
In the final over of Ireland's fielding powerplay, Trent Johnston had the rare scenario of having two slips in while he was bowling against the masterful Mahela Jayawardene, and repeatedly beat the outside edge. Jayawardene is ranked as one of the best batsmen in the world, while Johnston has returned from retirement from cricket as he struggled to balance playing with working life. Cricket Ireland have tackled that issue by putting the veteran all-rounder on a full-time professional contract. They have one other centrally-contracted player in their ranks, Alex Cusack, and he also repaid the faith with a sparkling stint with the ball.
He finished with four for 18, and that with a dropped catch which dribbled over the ropes for a boundary off the final delivery. Johnston's spell proved to be only a brief stall for Jayawardene. The former captain's class eventually outed as he made 78 from 53 balls, but he was one of just three batsmen - Sanath Jayasuriya (27) and Angelo Mathews (10) being the others - to reach double figures for Sri Lanka.
Their eventual tally of 144-9 was relatively paltry considering the strength of the opposition, and when set against some of the other scores in the competition so far. Yet with bowling resources like Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and Lasith Malinga, as well as the world's top-ranked bowler, Nuwan Kulasekara, the Lions looked confident of defending that score. However, the Irish openers were not cowed.
They threatened to get to the score in quick time as Niall O'Brien and the captain William Porterfield took them to 59 without loss in nine overs. Porterfield was then smartly held at the wicket off Muralitharan for 31. There was a mid-innings wobble after that as O'Brien, his brother Kevin and Andrew White, all fell for the addition of only four runs. Johnston gave a reason for hope by launching a six deep into the grandstand off Mendis, but the size of the task was too great and the Irish eventually succumbed.