By Ed Leahy at Castle Avenue
Ireland failed to chase down a very gettable total of 219 as Sri Lanka enjoyed victory in the opening RSA Insurance One-Day International at Castle Avenue.
A fine spell of bowling from Tim Murtagh helped Ireland restrict Sri Lanka to 219, however, a top and middle-order batting collapse saw Ireland struggle to a paltry total of 140.
Skipper William Porterfield top-scored for Ireland on 37, while Niall O’Brien hit an impressive 33 after forging a solid partnership with the captain.
But it was Sri Lanka’s bowling strategy that proved decisive as two early wickets fell, before four more went for 11 runs, once O’Brien had departed.
Porterfield faced 87 deliveries before finally getting caught out and the tail followed soon after as Sri Lanka ran out winners by 79 runs.
It had all started so promising for Ireland in the early Clontarf sunshine as Murtagh struck in the opening over and put on a fine bowling display, taking two wickets in his ten-over spell for a meagre 21 runs.
And the Sri Lanka total could have been a lot less but for some wayward bowling late in the innings.
Porterfield had won the toss and elected to bowl first, and that decision proved inspired as Kevin O’Brien made a fine catch in the slips as Kusal Perera departed for a duck off Murtagh’s delivery.
Sri Lanka’s slow start continued as Lahiru Thirimanne edged Cusack to wicketkeeper Gary Wilson with the tourists on 25 for two. And Upul Tharanga looked dangerous before edging Stuart Thompson, as the visitors moved to 57-3 after 17 overs.
Skipper Angelo Mathews was next in and Sri Lanka’s run rate was worryingly low at 65 for three after 20 overs, but a decent partnership with Dinesh Chandimal took the visitors to 90 for four.
The tourists were finding the batting conditions difficult as more wickets fell, before Ashan Priyanjana’s 31 pushed the total up to 160 before departing.
And with the score on 176 for eight, Ireland must have been hoping to keep the score below 200 with only two wickets in hand and just over four overs remaining.
But George Dockrell and Cusack were both punished at the death as the visitors made the innings much more respectable, posting 219 for eight at the end of the 50 overs.
The rain held off after lunch but Ireland lost early wickets as Paul Stirling was bowled by Kulasekara, immediately after scoring a boundary.
And then new batsman Ed Joyce, deceived by the pace of Sri Lanka’s other opening bowler Suranga Lakmal, was caught behind by Chandimal as Ireland found themselves two wickets down with only five runs on the board.
Niall O’Brien came in at four to join captain Porterfield, and the stylish left-hander made an immediate impact, scoring six runs from his first two balls faced.
Porterfield was proving extra cautious, and with good reason, following the early loss and had only one run from the first 24 balls received before he took a chance and crashed a ball through deep cover for four.
O’Brien, however, knows only one way to play and stayed ahead of a run a ball, getting to 30 in no time.
The skipper eased into the partnership and followed O’Brien’s lead getting into double digits and beyond.
O’Brien was taking chances and was lucky a thick edge flew past the keeper, before another mis-hit effort fell just short of the point fielder.
Sri Lanka turned to spin to slow the rate and it worked as the Irish duo played with enforced caution through a challenging spell.
The momentum was lost as Ajantha Mendis worked his magic catching O’Brien LBW, which broke the budding partnership, the Leicestershire man going for 33.
And sure enough, another wicket quickly followed as new man in Wilson never got going and was run out for three. Ireland now 67 for four.
Kevin O’Brien’s appearance at the crease was all too brief as the big-hitting batsman attempted to play over the top with his first delivery but mis-timed it straight to Priyanjan at deep mid-wicket.
Thompson was next in and never looked comfortable as he battled the Sri Lankan spin. The left-hander only faced seven balls and managed just one run before Mendis struck for his second wicket, trapping him leg before.
Cusack came out to steady the ship alongside Porterfield. But only 12 more runs were added before the captain was caught by Perera out at deep square leg for 37.
Cusack was bowled for ten before Max Sorensen (17) and Dockrell brought the total past the 100 mark for a degree of respectability.
But that was scant consolation as Ireland stumbled to a below-par 140, with last-man out Murtagh (10) making a brief cameo alongside fellow tail-ender Dockrell as the chase petered out.
Phil Simmons’ side will have a chance to level the series when the sides meet at the same venue on Thursday.
Ireland: William Porterfield (capt), Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera, Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal, Kithuruwan Vithanage, Ashan Priyanjan, Nuwan Kulasekara, Sachithra Senanayake, Suranga Lakmal, Ajantha Mendis.