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SL vs IRE, 2nd Test, Day 1 Review: Andrew Balbirnie leads from front as Ireland take command

SL vs IRE, 2nd Test, Day 1 Review: Andrew Balbirnie leads from front as Ireland take command

Andrew Balbarine. (Photo Source: Sri Lanka Cricket)

Andrew Balbirnie hit a masterful 95 before Lorcan Tucker surpassed him as Ireland’s leading Test run-scorer on a superb day for the tourists in Galle. They reached 319-4 on day one of the second and final Test match of the series against Sri Lanka.

The Ireland captain registered his career-best Test score in a century stand with Paul Stirling but was dismissed five runs short of a maiden hundred in the evening session. Stirling also reached a career-best total of 74 before retiring hurt, struggling with cramp.

The two Ireland stalwarts rebuilt after Sri Lanka took early wickets, reducing the visitors to 43-2. Lorcan Tucker and Curtis Campher saw their side through to the close four wickets down on Ireland’s best batting day this series.

Better luck followed Ireland right from the get-go as Balbirnie won the toss and elected to bat. Promoted up the order to open, PJ Moor was dismissed early, followed soon after by James McCollum, edging behind to Sameera Samarawickrama for ten.

Harry Tector was given a life early on, given out on 11 by Kumar Dharamasena – but the lbw decision was projected to be bouncing over the wicket on review. However, he was only able to add another seven runs before he charged down the pitch to Prabath Jayasuriya, looking to hit out but failing to clear a stretching mid-on fielder.

Charged with staving off another collapse, Stirling arrived at the crease fresh off the plane having joined the squad for this match only. True to style, he made his intentions clear early on, thumping a length ball over the square-leg boundary for a six to get off the mark from his third ball at the crease.

Stirling continued to be aggressive after lunch, hitting two more boundaries in consecutive overs early on. He allowed Balbirnie to settle into an accumulator role at the other end. Before the break, Balbirnie had reached his third Test match half-century off just 44 balls – the fastest ever for Ireland. But, with Stirling pushing on at the other end and the emphasis on conserving wickets, Balbirnie slowed down into the anchor role.

Reaping the rewards of his adventure, Stirling was dropped two balls before reaching his half-century, but he had earned his luck. Fishing at a length ball, Kusal Mendis put down a low chance at slip, allowing Stirling to lock in a maiden Test fifty – three sixes and four fours forming the bulk of the runs.

Having had a dominant middle session, Ireland faltered slightly in the early evening. Stirling had looked increasingly uncomfortable in the heat before the tea break, and less than three overs into the final session of the day and struggling with cramp, he was cut in half by a delivery from Asitha Fernando and ended up in a heap on the floor. The ball also beat the keeper to go for four, bringing up Ireland’s highest Test partnership in the process, but, after a lengthy delay and physio treatment, Stirling had to be helped off the field. He retired hurt on 74 and is expected to resume his innings on day two.

Tucker wasted no time in continuing Stirling’s pace of attack. He hit two fours in his second over at the crease as Balbirnie marched on towards a fairytale three figures.

But, disaster struck just when the milestone looked inevitable. Balbrinie tried to paddle-sweep Ramesh Mendis but was deceived by the bounce, the ball ballooning up off his top edge. It ended a superb innings, expertly paced, the centrepiece of Ireland’s best day of the series.

Tucker and Campher finished off the day with a record partnership for Ireland’s fifth wicket. Tucker notched his half-century with a boundary to punish Sri Lanka at the end of a long day in the heat. After Balbirnie passed Kevin O’Brien’s record of 270 Test runs for Ireland earlier in the day, Tucker surpassed his tally in just his third Test match, finishing unbeaten on 78.

He will resume with Campher (27*) on day two.

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