Match Preview – Sri Lanka vs Ireland, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021/22, 8th Match, First Round Group A
On Monday, Sri Lanka eased past a Namibia side that had rarely played under lights, and whose batters were largely unfamiliar with the type of pace they had to face. Their next opponents will not be quite so green (even if that is typically their colour).
Ireland had not had a great series against the UAE, in the approach to the T20 World Cup, but they seemed to hit their stride since then. They won both their warm-up matches comfortably, then positively flew past Netherlands, who had been expected to provide them more of a challenge.
Leading the charge against the Dutch was Curtis Campher, who emulated Sri Lanka’s greatest T20 player in taking four wickets in four balls. But even by that stage, Ireland’s bowlers were in control, having struck twice early, and having kept Netherlands’ scoring rate to around a run-a-ball. Their top order, which had flexed its muscles in the warm-up against Bangladesh, was not seriously tested by a target of 107.
On top of all these reasons for Sri Lanka to be wary, here’s another: Ireland are coached by Graham Ford, who had been Sri Lanka’s coach until mid-2017. Though, such has been the rate of turnover in Sri Lanka’s limited-overs teams, the only players in this current squad Ford would have worked with extensively are the likes of Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Perera, Lahiru Kumara, and Dushmantha Chameera (who has grown into a much better bowler since then).
Although Sri Lanka’s middle-order has been somewhat reliable over the past few weeks, thanks largely to Avishka Fernando‘s contributions from No. 4, they will be desperate to sort out their issues at the top of the order. Against Namibia, they fielded a top three that featured Pathum Nissanka and Chandimal – both batters who are better suited to the Test format than this one. Problem is, Sri Lanka don’t have a lot of candidates in their squad for top-order spots, so this is not a simple problem to solve.
Completed matches, most recent first
Ireland WLLWL Sri Lanka WLLLW
In the spotlight
Gareth Delany (brother of Laura Delany of the women’s team) missed Ireland’s home series against Zimbabwe in September because of a knee surgery, but since making it into the World Cup squad, has made an impression. It was his 88 not out off 50 balls that set up Ireland’s warm-up victory over Bangladesh – that innings featured eight sixes. Against Netherlands, his 44 off 29 ensured there would be no hiccups in the chase.
It’s a familiar Sri Lanka ploy to use a mystery spinner at a global tournament, and one match in, Maheesh Theekshana is doing exactly what the think tank hoped he might, taking 3 for 25 against Namibia. Teams with substantial analysis resources might pore over his footage and devise clear batting plans on how to pick him, but in the qualifying round, Sri Lanka face teams who perhaps do not have outsize resources. Of the three teams they will face in this round, however, Ireland probably have the best chance of demystifying him. How well he does in this match may offer some indication as to how teams further along in the tournament (provided Sri Lanka get through), play him.
Pitch and conditions
Temperatures are expected to hover around the low 30-degrees Celsius range again. No rain is expected, but there has been dew on the ground, particularly in the second innings.
Sri Lanka’s top three have not been at their best, and there might be a temptation to throw in Charith Asalanka, who had played some good T20 innings over the past few months, but Mickey Arthur they will stick with the same top three for this match.
Ireland are likely to stick with the XI that took down Netherlands.
Ireland (possible): 1 Paul Stirling, 2 Kevin O’Brien, 3 Andy Balbirnie (capt), 4 Gareth Delany, 5 Curtis Campher, 6 Harry Tector, 7 Neil Rock (wk), 8 Simi Singh, 9 Mark Adair, 10 Josh Little, 11 Ben White
Stats and trivia
Ireland have only played Sri Lanka in one T20I, way back in the 2009 World Cup. Ireland lost that match by nine runs.
In 13 matches this year, Wanindu Hasaranga has 22 wickets with a strike rate of 13.9, and an economy rate of 5.62.
Kevin O’Brien is the most experienced T20I player across both teams. Sri Lanka’s most-experienced is Chandimal, who has played in 60 matches.
“Chandi is a little short of confidence at the moment. We had a practice match among ourselves before we came over, when he hit 84 off 48. He’s a fine batsman. We haven’t got a particularly experienced top five, and the thing that gets him in there is his experience. We’ll give Chandi another run. I’m comfortable that Chandi is in there, and I’m comfortable Chandi is one innings from showing us what he can do.” Mickey Arthur expects the senior batter to come good.
“Gareth’s peaking at the right time. He played a brilliant innings against Bangladesh, and he took his form into the match against Netherlands. He’s doing exactly what we want from him – he’s taking the attack to the bowlers.” Andy Balbirnie wants the in-form batter to carry on the good work.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf