By Srian Obeyesekere
Ireland looked poised for their highest ever test score reaching a healthy 319 for 4 wickets on a rousing circus trapeze like batting comeback mounted by a captain’s knock of 95 by Andrew Balbirnie, 74 by Paul Stirling forced to retire by cramps and unbeaten 78 by Lorcan Tucker in a reversal of the dismal first test defeat on the opening day of the second test match against Sri Lanka at the Galle International Cricket Stadium today. On a wicket yet to generate the turning bite that undid them in the previous test, Balbirnie brought Ireland alive from another threatening start of 1 for 12 and 2 for 43 reaching a cameo half century off 43 balls in a typical lead from the front innings that was to fall short by just 5 runs of which would have been the zenith of overflowing joy had he reached the three figure milestone that brings that ultimate satisfaction to a batsman and have surely made Irish eyes to smile on a personal note. But then, it was nevertheless a job accomplished that must have had the Irish smiling as far as the team cause was concerned in getting Ireland back on track having won the toss and elected to bat more so having debilitated to 89 for 3.
Full marks to the recalled Paul Stirling whose lending muscle to repairing the innings from imminent peril after Sri Lanka had struck when pacer Asitha Fernando had drawn first blood trapping Peter Moor for 5 and Ireland’s first test bogey man Prabath Jayasuriya had got rid of James McCollum for 10 caught behind by wicket-keeper Sadeera Samarawickrama and followed it by sending back Harry Tector holing out to Dinesh Chandimal for 18. Ireland was then wobbling on 89 for 3 after 23.1 overs. The Stirling effect of 74 off 133 deliveries highlighted by the early blaze of reaching 50 off 43, the dazzle of which was to be bogged down by heat related cramps was yet heady stuff in the redeeming fourth wicket partnership worth 115 runs. Balbirnie’s 163-ball knock contained 14 boundaries, and Stirling pierced the boundary on 10 occasions in his unfinished stay that was to be put on hold.
But the duo had brought Ireland close to surpassing their highest test score of 339 versus Pakistan though in a lost cause by 5 wickets having buckled in the first innings for 130. The Irish run spurt was further fuelled by the unfinished fifth wicket partnership of 87 between Lorcan Tucker, who smacked 78 off 102 filled with 10 boundaries and Curtis Compher 27 off 64 with 2 boundaries and a six after Balbirnie had fallen with the score 232 for 4.
Ramesh Mendis it was who had the Ireland skipper caught edging to Dhananjaya de Silva. Jayasuriya’s two wickets cost him 95 runs off 32 overs and Asitha Fernando 1 for 46 while Mendis in particular came in for some stick conceding 84 runs for what was though the prize wicket.
CHIEF SCORES: Ireland 319/4 (90 Overs) (Andrew Balbirnie 95, Paul Stirling retd. hurt 74, Lorcan Tucker n.o. 78, Curtis Compher n.o. 27, Prabath Jayasuriya 2/95, Asitha Fernando 1/46, Ramesh Mendis 1/84)