This was no humdinger. The expected fireworks didn’t materialise as Australia brushed aside Ireland’s non-existent challenge with consummate ease, storming to a seven-wicket victory at the R Premadasa Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
The opening Group B clash of the ICC World Twenty20 2012 had all the trappings of a cracker, but that was only until the first ball was bowled. William Porterfield, the Ireland skipper, fell to the first delivery of the match, top-edging a Shane Watson pull to long-leg, a dismissal that set the tone for the one-sided nature of the no-contest.
Australia hadn’t taken kindly to be ranked, if only briefly, below Ireland on the ICC T20 charts a couple of weeks back. As if determined to expose the gulf between the teams, it came hard at the Irish, first with the ball and then through David Warner and Watson, the two destructive openers who smashed the new-ball attack to all parts of the ground with supreme nonchalance.
Ireland had done well to recover from 33 for 4 to post 123 for 7, which was still well below par on a surface that held no demons. Watson and Warner made that look even smaller with a calculated assault against Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston, who completely wilted under the onslaught. Australia had bowled just one wide in the entire Irish innings, and that in the last over; by contrast, Rankin alone sent down four wides inside the first three overs of Australia’s chase, which ended rapidly at 125 for 3 with 29 deliveries to spare.
Watson was quite the star of the day, following up his 3 for 26 with a bruising half-century marked by crisp, uninhibited ball-striking, taking a particular liking later in his innings to George Dockrell’s left-arm spin and Paul Stirling’s off-spin. His exit did put the brakes on the scoring, but Australia still cruised home with plenty in the tank.
There are few opening tandems in world cricket more explosive than Warner and Watson. When even one of them gets going, it can spell trouble for the opposition. Unfortunately for Ireland, Wednesday was the day they chose to fire together, Warner favouring the off-side and Watson scoring freely on both sides to quickly eat into the target.
Rankin and Johnston did get appreciable bounce with the new ball – like Watson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins had done earlier in the afternoon – but they weren’t consistent enough to pose any serious threat. Ireland desperately needed early breakthroughs as it strove to defend a meagre total, but with the openers putting on 60 in quick time, all it could do was try and delay the inevitable.
Ireland’s bowling stint wasn’t too dissimilar to its batting effort. Having lost its captain early in the piece, and then seeing Starc winkle out Paul Stirling with just 15 on the board, Ireland was forced to pay catch-up, its designs of putting a big total on board and putting Australia under pressure coming completely unstuck.
George Bailey didn’t take too long in bringing on his spinners. That move assumed proportions of a masterstroke as Glenn Maxwell and Brad Hogg, the left-arm Chinaman bowler, struck in their respective first overs. There wasn’t any great turn on offer, but both bowled tidy lines as Ireland’s innings seemed to be going nowhere.
It wasn’t until Kevin O’Brien strode out to join his older brother Niall that Ireland finally put together a partnership of substance. Niall, left-handed and industrious, watched from the best seat in the ground as Kevin, tall, right-handed and without a negative bone in his body, took the fight to Australia. Unprepared for the assault, Australia was briefly rocked; Kevin cracked Hogg behind point, crashed Daniel Christian wide of mid-off, swatted Starc over mid-wicket and thrashed him over cover, both in one over, as the siblings put on 52 for the fifth wicket.
With more than five overs left, Ireland was just setting itself up for a late flourish when Watson – that man again – set the cat among the pigeons. In the same over, he accounted for both Niall and Kevin, the former with a slower delivery that crashed into the stumps and the latter with a bouncer that, in trying to upper-cut, Kevin only managed to guide into Matthew Wade’s gloves.
Watson did go for 12 off the final over, but Ireland knew at the break that it needed a miracle to pull this one off. Watson and Warner made sure this was no day for miracles.