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Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie believes bowler Josh Little could hold the key to the national team’s chances of reaching the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 Super 12s after he starred against Sri Lanka.
Little returned career-best figures of four for 23 in Abu Dhabi, which featured two wickets in his first over, but could not prevent Sri Lanka from winning by 70 runs to secure their own safe passage to the next round.
The 21-year-old left-armer might have been on the losing side here but his performance was impressive, taking his 2021 T20I wicket tally to 12 from nine matches.
He delivered two brilliant balls to clean bowl both Dinesh Chandimal and Avishka Fernando with back-to-back deliveries as Sri Lanka stumbled to eight for three and later removed Pathum Nissanka for 61 and Bhanuka Rajapaksa for just one.
In between, Nissanka and Wanindu Hasaranga put on a partnership of 123 for the fourth wicket to rebuild Sri Lanka’s innings and they eventually made 171 for seven.
The Lions then bowled Ireland out for 101 but Balbirnie was quick to praise Little after the match.
“I was excited at eight for three,” he said. “Josh Little bowled to his plans and he has been a real find for us this year, he has bowled beautifully for us up top and we put them in real trouble.
“But the way their guys came out and played was really impressive and took the innings away from us in the middle. But I thought we came back quite well.
“Josh is a huge asset. He has been a force in ODI cricket this year and really come to the fore.
“He showed off those new-ball skills and attacked the stumps. On these wickets, he comes into his own.”
Balbirnie knows Ireland lost control of the match when Hasaranga was batting but praised his side for the way they fought back to take four wickets in the last five overs.
It was a different story with the bat, however, as openers Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien fell cheaply to leave them in trouble early.
When Curtis Campher was dismissed for 24, Ireland lost regular wickets and succumbed to defeat.
The Irish captain praised the Sri Lankan bowling that snuffed out any chance of a successful chase.
He also talked about his time at-bat, where he lead his team in runs with 41 from 39 balls.
“It was obviously nice to spend time in the middle tonight – I was hoping that I may have gone at a better rate, but with the small boundary on one side I always thought we were in the game.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get going today and that was largely down to a good Sri Lankan bowling attack.”
They now face a crucial game against Namibia – both teams have lost to Sri Lanka and beaten the Netherlands so far.
The winner of Friday’s clash between the two sides will progress to the Super 12s to meet New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the highest-ranked side in Group B (currently Scotland).
“We are excited, they are the games you want to play in when you grow up watching cricket and see the knock-out games. They are the ones we want to be part of, so we will rest up and be ready,” Balbirnie added.
“We started the week really well and put in some really good performances against the Dutch. We knew if we lost that game, we would be playing catch up.
“This is a good Sri Lanka team, I thought they batted and bowled really well. We started well with the ball and finished well with the ball but we could not really get it going with the bat.
“We have a massive game on Friday now and it is all to play for.”
Ireland will play Namibia in their final match in Group A on Friday morning at 11 am. Sky Sports will begin their coverage of the match in Ireland and the United Kingdom at 10:30 am.