Woods and I arrived early to ensure there were time to get the electricians to put the wires into the wall in order to get the fans working before the start of play. As the rest of the Irish players warmed up with a game of football, Paul Stirling sensibly opted for slip catching practice instead. My old friend Keerthi the Sri Lankan scorer turned up to say hello just as the TV in the Member’s Bar was showing highlights of the previous day’s play. Tucker should have been out caught at silly point off bat-pad just before the new ball was taken, but the umpire missed it and Frank was minded not to potentially waste his team’s last review. Unfortunately for Ireland Tucker was unable to take advantage of his lucky escape and was bowled by Vishwa from the fourth ball of the day for 80. It looked to everyone near where I was sitting that he had been caught at second slip as that was where the ball ended up. It’s hard to watch a game properly sitting in the sun at deep square leg ( 321–5).
Stirling returned to resume his innings on 74 and the ball was changed by the umpires in the sixth over. Four byes took Ireland beyond their previous best score of 339 in the second innings at Malahide against Pakistan. Stirling continued as if he had never had his innings interrupted and Asitha replaced Vishwa after a 4 over spell from the Fort End. A sweep from Stirling to Prabath took his score to 96. At the drinks interval the score was 368 – 5 with 49 runs added in the first hour for the loss of only one wicket from 13 overs. Campher was playing beautifully, and he brought up his half century from 111 deliveries with a six over mid-wicket off Prabath. The 50 partnership from 87 balls was chalked up at the same time.
Asitha was bowling bouncers at Stirling on the leg stump and when one of them was suddenly wide of off stump Stirling flayed it into the grass bank in front of me over extra cover to bring up his century from 174 balls including 4 sixes and 9 fours. Asitha finally got his reward when Stirling couldn’t resist another pull shot to a short delivery and just failed to clear the man standing in anticipation at deep long leg ( 385 – 6 ). It was a great effort by Stirling and the fans applauded him all the way back to the Dressing Rooms. However, it left me feeling he could have taken a bit more care and possibly added another 50 to his total. I guess some fans are never satisfied.
Prabath slowed the scoring rate bowling over the wicket into Campher’s pads and was replaced by Dhananjaya just before lunch. The Sri Lankan field settings appeared negative to my view with fielders placed on the boundary in case of poor deliveries. The Sri Lankans should have tried to close out the innings at this point, but McBrine was allowed to settle and at lunch the score was 399 – 6 from 117 overs. 80 runs had been added in the session for the loss of two wickets from 28 overs. The ball was starting to turn appreciably for Prabath and it was another exceptional batting performance from the inexperienced Irish players.
A sweep to the deep square leg boundary in the first over after lunch brought up the Ireland 400. Campher played a series of aggressive shots to all parts of the ground and the scoreboard kept ticking over. McBrine hit Prabath over long-on for a huge six. Frank switched his bowlers around regularly at the Fort End and persisted with Prabath all throughout the afternoon session from the Pavilion End.
McBrine comes across as a really solid No. 8 batsman and the 50 partnership was completed from 94 balls. The 450 was celebrated by the fans in the 129th over. An early drinks break was called by the umpires as Campher required treatment for an injured finger. The physio did whatever was required and Campher immediately hit a boundary to take his score to 94. A sweep to the forward square boundary in the next over took his score to 98 and a pull to square leg completed a marvellous 100 from 209 balls including 2 sixes and 14 fours. Sri Lankan swallows flew over the ground at the same time as if to show their appreciation and respect. A red wattled Lapwing was seen wandering around the outfield at deep square leg. If this continues, I’ll have to start Bird Watching at the Cricket Grounds while looking for stumps in the Rain Forest.
Unfortunately for Ireland this couldn’t continue for the rest of the day and the last four wickets eventually fell for the addition of only 18 runs in 50 minutes. McBrine was caught at a backward point / deepish gully position trying to hit the leather off a delivery from Vishwa ( 474 – 7 ) having contributed 35 to a partnership with Campher worth 89 runs. Campher was then brilliantly caught by Dhananjaya at slip diving full stretch to his right, the batsman attempting a full blooded drive to Prabath ( 476 – 8 ). His 111 runs will be remembered by the Irish fans for a long time to come. Hume scored a boundary from a reverse sweep as Ireland tried to reach that magical figure of 500. The shot was excellently executed but three balls later he played back and was plumb lbw to Prabath, who else ( 483–9). Humphreys tried to hit the spinner for a straight six and was caught in the covers by Ramesh Mendis. Ireland was all out for 492 from 145.3 overs. Prabath ended with figures of 58.3 –13–174–5.
The Tea interval had been delayed once the Irish ninth wicket fell, and the Sri Lankan innings began at 3.15 pm with Madushka and Frank facing George Hume and Andrew McBrine. Madushka edged both bowlers wide of the slips in the first few overs, before the batsmen settled down and started to look very comfortable. After 10 overs Sri Lanka had reached 42–0 and dark clouds were moving in from the east. Campher replaced Hume at the Fort End after a four over spell and Humphreys was given his first bowl in first class cricket. Reiffel was continuously looking at his light meter and the grounds staff had taken up their positions by the blue plastic covers located all around the edge of the playing area. When the lads ran on with the covers it wasn’t clear if it was bad light or the start of a shower that had led Paul Reiffel to point to the Dressing Rooms. The Sri Lankan score was 81–0 from 18.1 overs and by the time the covers were on the pitch the rain started falling in earnest. I quickly left the ground and managed to get to Ajantha the tuk tuk driver I regularly link up with just as he was taking off to rescue shoppers from the nearby market.
REPORT TWO: Andrew Fidel Fernando in ESPNcricinfo, aApril 2023