Cricket: O'Brien guides Irish to victory
KEVIN O'BRIEN returned to form with the bat in fine style in Nagpur yesterday, hitting 62 not out after a watchful start to guide Ireland to a four-wicket victory over Zimbabwe in their final World Cup warm-up match.
There were only three balls to spare when John Mooney scampered the winning single, but Ireland had paced their chase of Zimbabwe's 244-8 perfectly and, importantly, had shown the ability to counter a spin-dominated attack.
O'Brien said: "I played a few dot balls at the start and I wasn't ticking the board over but (coach) Phil Simmons has said to me a lot of times that if I stay at the crease I will always make that up later. I know if I'm there at the end I can clear the ropes and that was that the objective -- in the end I faced 61 balls for my 62."
Ireland know their chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the World Cup will rest on conquering spin -- particularly in their first match against Bangladesh in Dhaka a week on Friday -- and the signs yesterday were promising.
O'Brien added: "We went to Pune for a training camp before Christmas specifically to face spin bowling -- all types, on some slow pitches there to get our game plans worked out as individuals and as a team.
"It's no secret that sub-continent wickets are slow and a bit lower in the second innings and playing spin -- and playing it well -- is going to be crucial for us in this tournament."
After losing the toss, Trent Johnston and Boyd Rankin reduced Zimbabwe to 12-3 and Ireland kept a firm grip in the field until Elton Chigumbura cut loose in the final overs to reach 103 not out from only 81 balls.
Ireland's own rocket man, Paul Stirling, put Ed Rainford out of action after only two balls of the reply, with a fierce drive that struck the opening bowler on the leg, but then holed out to deep backward square leg.
A solid contribution of 47 from Alex Cusack built a platform for the chase before Andre Botha (79) and O'Brien swung the balance with a partnership of 99 from 93 balls.
Scoreboard in factfile