The Australians shrugged off all talk of a team in crisis and comments about how Ireland were the higher ranked T20 country to beat the Irish in the opening Group B match of the T20 World Cup 2012.
The four-time One Day International (ODI) world champions came into this, the fourth T20I World Cup, in poor form, having won just once in the last five international T20 matches. But you wouldn't have guessed that to see them play.
Australia 125/3 (S Watson 51, G Dockrell 1/31) beat Ireland 123/7 (K O'Brien 35, S Watson 3/26) by seven wickets
Player of the Match
S Watson (AUS)
The Irish won the toss and decided to bat in this, the first of two games at the R Premadasa Stadium for the day. The plan must have been to get out there first and get the runs on the board before the pitch started turning in the evening. It didn't quite work out that way.
William Porterfield, who opened the batting with Paul Stirling, holed out to Mitchell Starc at long leg off Shane Watson's bowling in the very first ball of the match and three overs later Starc and Watson combined once again, switching roles this time around, to dismiss Stirling for a laboured seven runs. The score was 2/15 and Ireland were in trouble.
It didn't get any better. Ed Joyce, in after Porterfield was caught, followed two overs later, when he misread and mistimed a ball tossed up on off stump by Glenn Maxwell, driving it straight to David Warner at mid-off. And when Gary Wilson was then trapped in front by Brad Hogg, the score read 4/33 and it seemed Australia would have the match wrapped up inside the hour.
Some resistance then followed, with Niall and Kevin O'Brien standing guard for their country. The brothers put on a heroic 52-run stand broken only when Watson returned, for his third over of the day. The all-rounder then showed his countrymen how it was done, removing both O'Brien brothers in one over to leave the Irish tottering, once more, at 86/6. Veteran Trent Johnston was the last Irish wicket to fall, when he was bowled by Starc with the score at 101.
The Irish finally crept to 123/7 after their 20 overs.
The Australians began their chase well, attacking Boyd Rankin from the very first ball. Warner smashed him through mid-on for a boundary in Rankin's first over and Watson benefitted from a thick outside edge in his second, ensuring the scoreboard was kept ticking over. In between, Johnston's first over was a wonderful effort - only three runs conceded and he definitely had Warner hopping about once or twice.
It all came unstuck for Ireland in the fourth over. With only 123 on the board, the Irish could not afford to give away too many boundaries. Unfortunately for them the Australians found three fours and a six in Johnston's second over. Porterfield rang the changes, replacing Rankin and Johnston with Alex Cusack and George Dockrell. It didn't really help though, with both Watson and Warner effortless rotating strike and picking boundaries to keep the run rate ticking.
After seven overs, Australia were 60/0 and it seemed all over. But then Dockrell struck. The slow left arm bowler cramped Warner for space down the leg and the attempted flick off the pads went straight to Kevin O'Brien. It was 60/1 but surely it was too late?
It certainly seemed so after Stirling's next over, which saw Watson smack him for a four and a six (after being dropped the previous ball). The powerful Australian repeated that in the next over and the euphoria of a wicket soon went away for Dockrell and the Irish.
But then, at just about the right time, Kevin O'Brien managed a breakthrough. The right arm medium pacer came on for Cusack and immediately struck... twice! The first was a run out and it was that man Watson, whose big hitting may have resulted in being just a little too lazy between the wickets. Johnston's throw was fast and accurate and he was out after a typically whirlwind innings of 51. But O'Brien wasn't quite done and struck with his last ball as well. The 28-year-old removed veteran Michael Hussey, trapping the left-hander in front of middle and off for 10.
A stunning comeback? It wasn't to be.
A total of 123 was never really going to be enough to defend, particularly if the chasing side got the stat the Australians did. The new pair of Cameron White and captain George Bailey had the luxury of time (they required only 29 runs from 54 balls) and played themselves in over the next few overs to ensure they took their country home.
There was still time for big hits though, with White smacking four boundaries in the final eight balls to finish the job.
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