Sport

Monday 11 December 2017

Kevin O'Brien hopeful on Ireland's Test status ahead of historic England ODIs

Kevin O'Brien has some big dates in his diary with Ireland this summer
Kevin O'Brien has some big dates in his diary with Ireland this summer

Kevin O'Brien is one of the ever-present heroes who have propelled Ireland for more than a decade to the start of a summer which could soon deliver Test status - and maybe another victory over England along the way.

The O'Brien name, thanks too to Kevin's brother Niall and their father Ginger, is inseparable from the national team - with approaching 300 caps on the family CV.

The brothers who have helped to drive Ireland's fortunes ever upwards since the shock World Cup win over Pakistan in 2007, largely under the captaincy of William Porterfield and alongside fellow mainstays such as Ed Joyce, are in Bristol preparing for the first of two Royal London one-day internationals.

That in itself will be a historic occasion, all-rounder O'Brien returning like Porterfield and coach John Bracewell to a venue he knows well from his time with Gloucestershire.

But whether he can inspire another success over England, in Ireland's first international fixture on these shores or at Lord's on Sunday, will be dwarfed in significance if the International Cricket Council accords Test status during June's annual conference.

O'Brien, whose most famous performance remains his match-winning hundred against England at the 2011 World Cup, is already daring to cast an eye beyond this week.

"Come the middle of June, if the vote goes in our favour of us and Afghanistan it's going to be a great reward for a lot of hard work - for me personally, and four or five of the other guys who've been in the team since 2007, and of course the people who were before us and are no longer playing," he said.

"It's going to be a very proud day ... a hell of a day i f and when we can get out and step on the pitch for our first Test match."

Before then, he has understandably mixed feelings about taking on an England team minus three of their best - with Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes staying instead at the Indian Premier League.

Stokes excelled himself just two days ago with his maiden Twenty20 hundred to carry Rising Pune Supergiant to victory - and O'Brien would have loved to try to stop him in his tracks.

"As a cricketer, as any sportsman, you want to play against the best players in the world - and certainly he's up there at the moment," he said.

"It's disappointing from my point of view, but also maybe from a fans' point of view, that he and Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes aren't here.

"But England have still picked an extremely good side ... i t's going to be a great chance for us to test ourselves against probably the second-best one-day team in the world."

O'Brien must deal forever with high expectations, after his brilliantly sustained hitting against England that night in Bangalore, but is grateful to his Ireland team-mates and coaches for giving him the freedom to play to his strengths.

"The way I play I do fail more than I come off," he said.

"Any cricketer does through their career - you've just got to realise that and keep it in the back of your mind.

"But if the ball is there to hit, I'll try to hit it - whether it's the first ball, or the 50th ball.

"I've had that freedom with the Irish team over the last six or seven years, and it's nice not to worry that people are concerned in the changing room about how I play.

"It takes a lot of pressure off me, and allows me to play my free game and try to express myself."

What of the future, though, for Irish cricket?

O'Brien, 33, acknowledges a "slight little bit of transition" as a golden generation begins to age - but is optimistic nonetheless.

"It's a great time to be a young cricketer in Ireland - certainly better than it was when I was 12 or 13," he said.

"We (must) continue to be positive, continue to look forward rather than thinking about the previous couple of months ... and continue that progress we've made over the last 10 years.

"Cricket has come a hell of a long way in Ireland in that time."

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