O'Brien back behind stumps as Ireland eye Aussie shock
Niall O'Brien will be back in his rightful position behind the stumps when Ireland take on world champions Australia today in the Hanley Energy Challenge one-day international in Belfast.
One of the finest wicketkeepers of his generation, O'Brien was stripped of the gloves and banished to the outfield by former coach Phil Simmons for the crime of missing a match in Kenya to take part in a Bangladesh T20 tournament in 2012.
With the exception of the 2013 InterContinental Cup final, and a couple of other occasions when Gary Wilson wasn't fully fit, O'Brien has not kept wicket since for Ireland as Simmons resisted pressure to reinstate him from some of his most senior lieutenants.
The case has never been that the 33-year-old is a much better gloveman than Wilson, more that the younger Surrey man is far and away the better outfielder, something new coach John Bracewell appears to have taken on board.
As the two teams trained at the Stormont ground yesterday William Porterfield confirmed the move.
"Nobby will keep wicket in this match," the Ireland captain said. "We've got a lot of cricket coming up and the coach wants to take a look at him.
"We've got three very good keepers in Nobby, Gary and Stuart Poynter, and it may be a case of playing different keepers in different formats of the game."
That good news for one side of the O'Brien family was tempered by the withdrawal from the squad of brother Kevin, who would have become the first Ireland player to win 250 caps had he played. The younger O'Brien has aggravated a hamstring injury and was replaced last night by Max Sorensen.
Despite heavy overnight rain and the generally wet summer, at training yesterday both Porterfield and his opposite number Steven Smith made a point of praising the Stormont pitch which looks to be hard and full of runs.
While that may be good news for the 5,000 fans expected, a sticky pitch where the slower bowlers are hard to get away would have been more in Ireland's favour, like the one where they narrowly lost to England by three runs on the same ground six years ago.
"Conditions here aren't too different to those most of us are used to playing in England," Porterfield said. "A few of the boys have been in good touch with the bat, a couple of us have made centuries recently and Nobby has been scoring well in the County Championship.
"The boys are all really excited to get this chance to take on the world champions. Every time you play Australia you know they are going to come at you hard and it's going to be a real test for us - but we've been counting down the days to this game."