Ger Siggins in Mohali

Special to CricketEurope

IN her finest moment as an international cricketer, Ciara Metcalfe’s thoughts were only for her team-mates.

“I’m obviously happy with the way I bowled,” she told the media, “but the defeat has hurt us. We should have won today. But we will take it in our stride and continue to improve.”

Five years after the Ireland men’s unjust World Cup defeat to West Indies in the same I S Bindra Stadium, the distaff team had an equally gut-wrenching defeat on the global stage.

Metcalfe’s  tournament-best 4-15 reduced Sri Lanka to 61 for five at the half-way point -- and they should have been put to bed. After some early looseness, Ireland’s bowling and fielding was ten times better than it had been against New Zealand.

The Sri Lankan openers had put on 45 in the first five overs, but thereafter only five boundaries were hit, just one of them in front of square. Metcalfe and Isobel Joyce went for 26 off their eight overs, the other 12 coughed up over 100.

Another spinner might have helped set a smaller target for Ireland. But nothing should take from Metcalfe’s remarkable spell, which bamboozled a side well used to quality leg-spin.

The former Rush, Malahide and Pembroke player, who will be taking up a development role at The Hills on her return, has been inspirational since she returned to the side after a four-year hiatus.

The younger players speak of her in awe, her humour, dynamism and work ethic bringing a new spark to the dressing room. At one stage in those four years – she won 55 caps from 1999 to 2011 – Metcalfe considered jacking it all in, but was persuaded to give it another go and forced her way into the selectors’ plans.

She shed stones, worked harder still, and eventually supplanted the teenage leggie Elena Tice. Her sub-par performance against New Zealand on Friday annoyed her, and she made a point of seeking out the tiny band of travelling supporters and apologizing for her display.

But the second game in Mohali was her crowning glory and once the bitter taste of defeat recedes she can look back with pride at the way she tore the heart out of the Lankan top order.

The Asians had settled quickly, benefiting as the Kiwis had from a loose first over by Kim Garth. The Pembroke all-rounder seems out of sorts, and while she can bowl a killer ball, on this pitch she was no trouble to the Lankans and found just three dot balls in her three overs.

Amy Kenealy didn’t have the control she had against New Zealand, but Lucy O’Reilly deserved better than 1-25. Oddly, more than half those runs came off the last ball of each of her four overs, including the only three boundaries she conceded.

A target of 130 was never going to be easy, and with a losing margin of 14 it’s easy to find those runs when you look back on the game. Each member of the side will have beat themselves up last night as they stared at the ceiling of the Taj Hotel in Chandigarh.

Preparation wasn’t ideal, with some of the side never having played under floodlights before. In the men’s World Cup, teams are permitted to practice in the floodlit stadium on the night prior to the game. It’s not clear if ICC or the local authority refused this, or if Ireland even asked, but one way or another it didn’t help.

Needing 6.5 an over, and boundaries hard to find (Ireland hit only eight in all), better running would have helped too. Basic stuff like watching the ball and running the first run hard was forgotten by a couple of players.

There were also way too many dots, including 21 in the six-over power play. Clare Shillington – who was bowled twice – and Cath Dalton won’t be happy with their contributions, but both are quality players who can come good in the remaining games.

Ireland has relied upon Cecelia and Isobel Joyce for so long that their huge contributions last night were almost no surprise. Isobel took a while to get motoring as the spinners tightened their grip, but her stands of 22 with her sister and 47 with the ever-busy Laura Delany gave Ireland a great platform.

Delany is a great scamperer, turning several singles into twos, and played a lovely cut for four off the off-spin of Ranasinghe. With 13 overs gone Ireland were ahead of the target rate with just three wickets down, but the middle-order couldn’t carry them home.

Gaby Lewis played an excellent cameo against the Kiwis, but here she smacked her first four balls straight to a fielder and as the run-rate mounted the wickets fell. Garth can be a big hitter but the Sri Lanka spinners were many and varied and their fielders never faltered even once.

Aaron Hamilton has a nice side developing, and if the senior players can be persuaded to keep going that elusive big win can’t be far away.

It may even come this week, when they take on South Africa in Chennai and Australia in Delhi.