Ireland fall back to earth as Sri Lankan stars take over

Ireland came back down to earth in their last World Cup game on Wednesday.

Having shocked powerhouse Pakistan and Test team Bangladesh at this tournament, they came up against a Sri Lanka team preparing for a semifinal and saw what it takes to truly rise to the top of the game.

While teamwork took Ireland to the Super Eights and further than anyone expected, it is stars like Muttiah Muralitharan that turn good teams into great ones.

Muralitharan, world cricket’s leading spin bowler after the retirement of Shane Warne, and Farveez Maharoof each took four wickets to dismiss Ireland for only 77 at Grenada National Stadium.

Sri Lanka, which had been assured of its place in the semifinals for almost a week, then reached 81-2 with 40 of its 50 overs to spare to win by eight wickets.

Maharoof’s haul of 4-25 included the top four batsmen and three wickets in four balls. Muralitharan, who returned to the team after being rested for Monday’s defeat to Australia, finished with 4-19.

”We started quite well then lost three wickets in one over and never really recovered from that,” Ireland captain Trent Johnston said. ”Bring the best spin bowler in the world on, who we’ve never seen before, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.”

Ireland’s total was the lowest of the tournament, replacing the 78 Bermuda managed against Sri Lanka in the first round. It was also the sixth lowest total in tournament history.

The defeat was even more rapid than last week’s nine-wicket loss to Australia, when Ireland was 91 all out and then conceded the winning runs in 12.2 overs.

However, Ireland beat Bangladesh between those two routings and its players took a well-deserved lap of honour on Wednesday.

”I hope people don’t remember us for that last game,” Johnston said. ”We’ve had a hell of a tournament, played nine great games, and been in a fight to a certain degree for all nine of those games.

”If someone had said to me we’d be beaten by eight wickets by Sri Lanka in [the] last game of Super Eights, we’d have taken that.”

Sri Lanka had won the toss and asked Ireland to bat first.

Openers Jeremy Bray and Porterfield looked comfortable until Maharoof came on for the eighth over.

Bray hit his first two balls for four, one a pull and one an extra cover drive. But the paceman switched to around the wicket and Bray spooned the next ball to Arnold at cover to depart for 20.

”It was Mahela’s decision,” said man-of-the-match Maharoof.

”Let’s give it a go and they couldn’t work it out.”

Andre Botha went two balls later for nought, caught behind by Kumar Sangakkara, and Eoin Morgan went the same way to the next delivery, the wicketkeeper taking an acrobatic one-handed catch to his left.

William Porterfield then departed for 17, hitting Maharoof to Jayasuriya.

Muralitharan then came on and took two wickets in three balls.

Langford-Smith did hit a 21-ball 18 in a last-wicket stand of 23 with Boyd Rankin, but went lbw to Chaminda Vaas.

Ireland’s last successes came with its two wickets in the opening four overs of Sri Lanka’s innings.

Opener Upul Tharanga fell for nought in the opening over, cutting Rankin to Porterfield at gully. Sangakkara was then caught for 10 off Dave Langford-Smith, who danced and flapped his elbows to celebrate his seventh wicket of the tournament.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene shared an unbroken third-wicket stand of 56 to seal the result.

Jayawardene had a let off when replacement fielder John Mooney dropped him off Rankin, but survived to reach 39 off 27 balls, including six fours and a six. Jayasuriya got 24 off 20.

Sri Lanka, which had qualified for the semifinals even before its seven-wicket defeat to tournament favourites Australia, is now certain to play its semifinal in Jamaica on Tuesday. That will be against New Zealand, unless the Black Caps emphatically beat Australia on Friday. – Sapa-AP

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