Saturday 25 February 2017

Review: Cricket: Six After Six - Ireland's Cricket World Cup by Kevin O'Brien with Gerard Siggins

Brickfields Press, €12.99

It was a steamy night in Bangalore. It was noisy in the M Chinnaswamy Stadium and the air was heavy with humidity. It was England versus Ireland in the Cricket World Cup, a match that would turn out to be one of the greatest upsets in the long history of the game.

England had scored 327, and Ireland were 111 for 5. The English journalists in the press box had begun updating their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds, thinking the match was over as a contest.

They reckoned without one Kevin O'Brien, who scored the fastest century in World Cup history and dispatched the cream of England's bowling at all parts of the ground.

O'Brien scored 113 runs off 63 balls that night, hitting 13 fours and six sixes as Ireland chased down England's total. It was, as England batting legend Geoffrey Boycott conceded, one of the great one-day innings.

Ireland's victory transcended the narrow confines of the sport in Ireland. People who had no interest in cricket, or who actively disliked it, were caught up in the drama of that famous night.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to know about O'Brien, and why he'd dyed his hair purple (the Shave or Dye fundraiser), where he came from (the Railway Union club in Dublin's Sandymount) and whether they had any more like him (they did -- his older brother Niall has more runs in fewer matches for Ireland).

Ireland beat Holland in that World Cup, and lost to Bangladesh, the West Indies, India and South Africa. But it was the victory against England that everyone remembers, the drama of it, the seemingly impossible total of 328 required to win, the faltering start made by Ireland (opening batsman William Porterfield was out for 0) and then the flashing bat of Kevin O'Brien.

O'Brien was, of course, interviewed to death afterwards. He did 30 in one day after the game. Thousands of words were written and spoken about the game itself. Just the other day, when Ireland played England at Castle Avenue in Clontarf, Sky TV broadcast a documentary on the game, interviewing all the major players.

Now Ger Siggins, the doyen of Irish cricket writers, has, in collaboration with Kevin O'Brien, given an insider's account of the tournament and the England match.

Siggins, a long-time staffer on the Sunday Tribune, is the unofficial chronicler of Irish cricket. He has written an account of Ireland's previous World Cup campaign (Raiders of the Caribbean, with Trent Johnston) and a history of cricket in Ireland, Green Days: Cricket in Ireland 1792-2005.

Six After Six is a lively, accessible read, beginning with O'Brien's family grounding in cricket (his dad played for Ireland, too) and his rise through the schoolboy and youth ranks. O'Brien may appear as a rough-and-ready sort of cricketer, but he's been coached at the highest level at all sorts of international and English county camps for many years.

The centrepiece of the book is the account of the match against England on March 2, 2011. There is plenty for the cricket fan -- the sledging, the reaction of the England camp etc -- but enough pace and drama to keep the general reader entertained as well.

Six After Six places O'Brien's dreamlike innings against England in context -- Ireland had been building towards a win like that for 20 years. O'Brien was merely the man who finished it off.

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