The opening matches in Group A followed remarkably similar trajectories, seven-wicket victories propelling Ireland and Sri Lanka into very strong positions on the group table and leaving the Netherlands and Namibia with huge tasks if they are to recover from these initial defeats.
Dutch coach Ryan Campbell had urged his side to ‘be brave’, but he showed a good deal of bravery himself by omitting Stephan Myburgh and Timm van der Gugten from his playing eleven. Any doubts about selection were compounded by a superb, relentless display by Ireland’s bowlers, and by a disastrous run-out which brought the relatively inexperienced Bas de Leede to the crease before the end of the first over.
Andrew Balbirnie marshalled his attack skilfully, and they responded by giving Max O’Dowd and the rest of the Dutch batters little or no room for aggression: Mark Adair in particular conceded just a single run in each of his first two overs, and by the end of the power play the total was a modest 25 for two.
O’Dowd and Colin Ackermann battled to create some momentum in the Dutch effort, but then Curtis Campher, who had conceded 12 runs in his initial over, returned to produce a second, the tenth of the innings, which ripped the heart out of the Netherlands’ batting and utterly turned the game Ireland’s way.
After a wide and a dot the transformation started with a leg side delivery which was initially called a wide but which proved on review to have brushed Ackermann’s gloves on its way through to keeper Neil Rock; then two full, straight balls caught first Ryan ten Doeschate and then Scott Edwards plumb in front (the second of these only after another well-judged review), and finally Roelof van der Merwe went after a wide one and bottom-edged it into his stumps.
Campher had become only the third bowler, after Rashid Khan and Lasith Malinga, to take four wickets in four balls in a T20I, and the Dutch were in desperate trouble at 52 for six at the halfway mark.
There followed no Scottish miracle to shift the balance back the Netherlands’ way: O’Dowd and skipper Pieter Seelaar showed determination for six and a half overs, O’Dowd reaching a well-deserved half-century, but then Adair came back to have him caught on the long on boundary for a 46-ball 51, and another flurry of wickets in Adair’s final over saw the Dutch dismissed for 106.
Campher finished with four for 26 and Adair with three for 9, and they were well backed up by disciplined performances from Josh Little, Simi Singh and even Ben White, the most expensive of the Irish bowlers, and by a consistently committed effort in the field.
Defending 106, the Dutch needed a series of rapid breakthroughs, but although Brandon Glover and Fred Klaassen removed Kevin O’Brien and Balbirnie respectively, Paul Stirling cast himself in an unaccustomed anchor role, and he and Gareth Delany put on 59 in a third-wicket stand which carried Ireland to within a dozen runs of victory.
Whereas the Irish attack had conceded not a single six their batters managed three, and they hit eleven fours in the 15.1 overs it took them to reach their target, the same number the Dutch had struck in their 20.
Seelaar eventually bowled Delany when he had made a splendid 29-ball 44, and it was left to Player of the Match Campher to keep Stirling company as the remaining runs were ticked off, Stirling finishing with a quietly effective 30 not out.
Pieter Seelaar had elected to bat first, but Sri Lanka’s Dasun Shanaka chose to field, and his bowlers vindicated that call by dismissing Namibia for just 96.
Maheesh Theekshana started the rout by removing openers Stephan Baard and Zane Green within the power play, and although Craig Williams and Gerhard Erasmus achieved a partial recovery by putting on 39 for the third wicket, that was as good as it got against a clinically-effective Sri Lankan attack.
Lahiru Kumara’s pace conceded only nine runs from his three-and-a-half overs, and it was he who broke the stand by getting Erasmus caught at long on for 20; Williams fell leg-before to Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva in the following over, and none of the other Namibian batters was able to get going as the Sri Lankans turned the screw.
Theekshana returned to bowl Jan Frylinck and finish with three for 25, while Kumara and Hasaranga picked up two apiece.
The Namibians fought back hard with the ball in their hands, and when Ruben Trumpelmann, Bernard Scholtz and JJ Smit had combined to reduce Sri Lanka to 26 for three it seemed for a moment that they might cause Sri Lanka some real difficulty.
But Avishka Fernando and Bhanuka Rajapaksa were equal to the task, and they knocked off the runs comfortably enough, seeing their side home in just 13.3 overs to ensure that they took a net run rate advantage over Ireland into their remaining games.
Fernando ended on 30 not out, but Rajapaksa’s 27-ball 42 not out was even more impressive as Sri Lanka dismissed any residual doubts about their claim to be favourites in what had seemed pre-tournament to be an intensely competitive group.
The Netherlands and Namibia are now faced with the imposing task of winning both their remaining matches, and winning them decisively, if they are to have any chance of progressing beyond this additional qualifying phase.
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