Andy Balbirnie fell five short of a deserved century in Galle yesterday as Ireland’s batsmen dominated the first day of the second Test against Sri Lanka and restored their reputations after last week’s heavy defeat.

Paul Stirling and Lorcan Tucker also made attacking half-centuries and both will resume at some point today - the latter was 78 not out as the visitors reached stumps on 319-4, only 20 short of their best total in Tests.

Stirling, who hit three sixes in the innings of the day, is also technically unbeaten on 74, although he had to retire hurt shortly after tea with a severe attack of cramp that had the 32-year-old laid out in agony, and play delayed by 11 minutes.

Along with his 95 runs, Balbirnie’s equally important contribution was to win the toss and give his side first use of a good batting pitch that rendered Sri Lanka’s feared attack largely impotent after three wickets in the opening session.

Balbirnie and Stirling, the great mates who have played together for more than 15 years, batted throughout the afternoon to add 115 for the fourth wicket, Ireland’s highest partnership in Tests.

Stirling was struggling in the heat and humidity well before he had to hobble off, but Balbirnie was serene, striking 14 boundaries, and looked sure of a first Test century until he attempted a sweep and somehow sent a catch to slip over the keeper’s shoulder.

“I’m sure I’ll be looking for those extra five runs a few times in my sleep tonight,” he said, smiling. 

“It would have been nice to get the 100 but I’m not too bothered because we’ve had a great day and I felt my game was good out there and I’ve been able to help the team. There have been a couple of Tests where I haven’t been able to do that.

“It’s great to have Paul back, and his intent from ball one took the game to the Sri Lanka bowlers and made my job easier at the other end.

“When he went down it was actually quite scary because I haven’t seen cramping that bad before. I tried to help him but he was just roaring at me and I left it to the physio.”

Tucker and Curtis Campher built on the solid foundation with an unbroken partnership of 87 for the fifth wicket, scoring quickly off the second new ball as the home side struggled in conditions even they rarely encounter.

“We’re still learning on the job in Test cricket and I’m really proud of that effort,” Balbirnie said. “We’re in a good place but we have push on to make sure we capitalise on the start.”