Friday 15 December 2017

Cricket: O'Brien carves out a piece of history

Gerard Hughes

Kevin O'Brien wrote himself into World Cup folklore in Bangalore yesterday by delivering a scarcely believable victory over England with the greatest innings ever played by an Irishman.

O'Brien's masterpiece -- a century from 50 balls -- will surely be spoken of in the same breath as Viv Richards' 100 in the 1979 final, Steve Waugh against South Africa and Sanath Jayasuriya on home soil in 1996. The fastest World Cup century by a distance was an innings of pure power, containing six sixes and 13 fours, but also one of intelligence as he eased down the throttle with victory in sight.

It will annoy O'Brien that he was run out for 113 without quite seeing the job through, but he had broken the England back and six balls later John Mooney struck the boundary that sealed Ireland's three-wicket win with five balls to spare.

An exhilarated O'Brien said: "That's by a long way the best innings I've played, even as kids when I was playing in the back garden with Niall when hitting it out of the garden. I just went out to try to be positive. I score pretty quickly and these last three games, including the warm-up games in Zimbabwe, I've just backed my own ability to go out there and just hit it and hit it as hard as I can.

"I think anyone is going to struggle to beat that innings to be honest. I'll take a few team fines for saying that but 100 off 50 balls in a World Cup in front of a billion people (watching on TV) under lights against England, it doesn't get any better.

"It still hasn't sunk in you know, myself and 'Cussie' (Alex Cusack) we just took a chance. We took the Powerplay at 31 overs, we took that chance and it came off and that set us up for seven an over off 15 overs.

"You can't fully write yourself off in any one-day cricket game as anything can happen. I knew that if I just stayed there and got a few boundaries away we could get on top of the bowlers.

"It's a fantastic day for Irish cricket; any Irish sport, be it rugby, football, whatever, any time Ireland beat England it's massive."

A first Ireland victory over England seemed highly unlikely when Cusack joined O'Brien with Ireland 111-5 in the 25th over, a situation so hopeless that bets were being matched at 400/1 on exchanges and the travelling Blarney Army were contemplating an early curry.

O'Brien signalled that he wasn't going down without a fight by blasting his second ball to the boundary, then lifting the previously unplayable Graeme Swann for two sixes in three balls. A third six brought up his half-century from 30 balls -- the fastest by an Ireland batsman -- but what followed made those runs look sluggish as O'Brien and Cusack plundered 62 from the five-over batting Powerplay.

Cusack proved the perfect foil, trying to give the big man the strike with cleverly placed singles but also finding the boundary three times and clearing it once when England tried to stop him.

O'Brien's one bit of luck -- other than the odd inside edge -- came on 91 when Andrew Strauss spilled a chance that spiralled down out of the Bangalore night.

Five balls later O'Brien nudged one into the leg-side, scampered two and let out a mighty roar. To put his achievement into some sort of perspective, Aussie Matt Hayden held the previous record with a 66-ball hundred at St Kitts in 2007 -- 16 balls more!


With 79 needed off the final 12 overs, the outcome was assured if Ireland could hold their nerve but things got a little shaky when Cusack's over-eagerness got him run out for 47 from 58 balls.

Mooney, who like O'Brien was probably still kicking himself for the way he got out against Bangladesh, was in no mood to throw it away this time and every time England built pressure with a couple of dot balls, the North County man responded with a boundary.

The target was whittled away until one run a ball was required off the last two overs. O'Brien chose that moment to make his only bad judgment of the evening and was run out, but Trent Johnston coolly struck his first ball for four and Mooney's sixth boundary won it.

In ordinary circumstances, Mooney's 33 not out from 30 balls and four wickets towards the end of the England innings would have made him a contender for man of the match. These were not ordinary circumstances.

England will wonder how they lost. At 278-2 before Mooney's first strike, they looked set for a total beyond 350 -- and beyond even O'Brien -- but then lost direction in their final seven overs.

It didn't seem to matter when William Porterfield played on first ball and Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce both got out for 32 after promising starts.

That, though, was before the demolition man got to work.

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