Tested and bested - Ireland go down to Sri Lanka

Tested and bested - Ireland go down to Sri Lanka

The Ireland cricket team lose their series to Sri Lanka and now look forward to a meeting with England at Lords in June. The Irish Post's MALHAR HATHI reports

BATTLING BATSMAN: Harry Tector of Ireland in action against Sri Lanka (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP via Getty Images)

IRELAND  STUMBLED to a 0-2 Test series loss against a dominant Sri Lankan side in Galle but came away with plenty of experience and positives to draw on.

After being beaten by seven wickets by Bangladesh in Chattogram earlier this month, the Andrew Balbirnie-led side fell to an innings defeat in both matches in their first-ever Test tour to Sri Lanka.

The result was hardly surprising, as it was in Bangladesh, without so much as a practice match to offset the inexperience of having played no cricket in the country in over a decade.

The two sides battled in unrelenting April heat with temperatures into the 30s and high humidity playing its part.

In the series opener, the hosts won the toss and opted to bat first on a flat pitch that eventually eased out for spinners to strut their stuff. It couldn’t have gone any better for Dimuth Karunaratne’s side.

Sri Lanka posted a mammoth first-innings total of 591/6 with as many as four batters recording a century. Karunaratne laid the platform with 179, a six-hour vigil, backed up by Kusal Mendis’ 140. Together the duo stitched a 291-run stand to finish the day on 386-4.

Sadeera Samarawickrama, returning to the Test team after a six-year absence, brought up his maiden ton and Dinesh Chandimal, too, made an unbeaten 102 to deepen the Irish woes with a commanding 183-run partnership to ensure there were enough runs on the board.

Off-spinner Andy McBrine, who picked up the country’s best Test figures of 6-118 a Test earlier, toiled hard for 40 overs with just a wicket to show for his efforts and as did seamer Mark Adair, left-arm spinner George Dockrell and leg-spinner Ben White. Curtis Campher bagged two.

In response, left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya registered his career-best haul of 7-52 to spin out the visitors for 143 in under 53 overs. Quite how incompetent the Irish batters were was summed up by the fact that Lorcan Tucker’s 45 would go on to be the highest score by an Irish batter across both innings.

If once wasn’t enough, their frail technique against spin was once again laid bare after being asked to follow on trailing by 448 runs.

At one point, there was a real threat of being bowled out twice in one day after being reduced to 40-5 in the second dig but Campher and Harry Tector’s 60-run stand did well to delay the inevitable onto the third day. The batters failed to resist for long as the hosts wrapped an innings-and-280 run win, shortly after tea, led by off-spinner Ramesh Mendis’ four-fer and Jayasuriya completing his ten-wicket haul.

An early finish provided an opportunity for Ireland to fine tune their skills and acclimatise to the conditions. It also ensured that despite another loss in the second Test, the manner of it wasn’t as listless as the first.

For the first time in six Tests, the side managed to take the game deep into the fifth day, aided partly by the weather, and finished on top for the best part of the first two days.

For it to happen, Balbirnie inserted his batters on a pitch that mimicked the one in the first Test providing little encouragement for the bowlers in the first innings.

While the captain missed out on his maiden Test century, a paddle sweep off Mendis inducing a top edge to first slip on 95, Curtis Campher and the returning Paul Stirling scored theirs on a historic day to post Ireland’s highest total of 492 in 145.3 overs.

If Campher’s 111 was more sedate, laced with 15 fours and two sixes, Stirling overcame a cramp to post an aggressive 103 which featured nine fours and four sixes. In the process, he became only the second Irishman to hit a century across all three formats after Kevin O’Brien’s feat in 2018.

But unlike the first Test, the pitch barely showed any signs of slowing down as the Irish bowlers endured another tough outing.

Kusal Mendis, who top-scored with 245, and Nishan Madushka, playing just his third Test, blasted maiden double centuries in a record stand of 268. Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews, too, posted centuries to swell the total to an insurmountable 704-3 in 151 overs, a further reminder of how little the pitch offered.

But Ireland’s fielders were also culpable for dropping catches and letting the batters loose.

Requiring to bat the final day out to salvage a draw, the best possible result for the visitors with 212 runs in arrears, only Harry Tector stood tall with a 189-ball vigil for a career-best 85. Balbirnie’s 46 was the only other effort to pass 19.

Ramesh Mendis bagged his first five-wicket haul of the series and Jayasuriya picked seven for the match to become the fastest spinner to bag 50 Test wickets in just his seventh match to bowl out Ireland for 202 in the 78th over.

The innings-and-10 run victory was Sri Lanka’s 100th win in Tests.

“Mentally the last three weeks have been draining, but we’ve really enjoyed it,” Balbrinie said.

Test matches are still the best format in my opinion and the group have loved the challenges. We were in amongst it for large parts of the games and we can take positives from that.”

"We're not too down in the change-room about this result," he said. “If we were being hyper-critical, we could have had more runs in the first innings, because that was the best time to bat. But to have two first-time centurions - these are big moments for them. We are disappointed we didn't get a draw but we played good cricket."

"We are very young in our Test career, so you have to take these little wins. It's the first time we've played five full days. I know there was a bit of rain around, but we got into the middle session on the fifth day, still believing we could get a draw.”

While the batters did improve, the gulf in the performance of the spinners was concerning. Sri Lanka’s spinners took 28 wickets across the two Tests as compared to Ireland’s four.

"We're brought up in Ireland where the wickets favour seam bowling," Balbirnie said. "It's so different here, as hot as it is, and the Kookaburra ball doesn't do a lot, particularly when it goes soft. You have high-class batters who are amazing in these conditions.

"The guys tried their hardest out there. Can't fault them at all. I know they were 704 for 3, but whenever I gave someone the ball, they had no hesitation. They just kept running in."

The Test side is still looking for its maiden win in the format but another stern challenge awaits as they take on third-ranked England at Lord’s for a four-day Test match from June 1.