Thursday 18 January 2018

Cricket: O'Brien stands on the shoulders of giants

James Lawton

James Lawton

There were a few things you had to keep repeating while watching Kevin O'Brien apply the long handle of cricket and the deepest spirit of sport to the business of beating England in Bangalore yesterday.

It wasn't any mere incantation of the word unbelievable. That simply wouldn't have been true as you saw the expressions on the faces of some of the men who were recently whipping the Australians in Ashes combat.

At first there was certainly a little wonderment in England's captain Andrew Strauss and senior hands like Kevin Pietersen and Jimmy Anderson, but that was quickly replaced by an understanding of the reality of O'Brien's performance, how he moved so brilliantly from chancing his arm to putting increasing faith in his ability to hit the right ball tremendous distances.

No, what was so stunning was that the man so dramatically out-stripping the achievements of cricket giants like Matthew Hayden, Kapil Dev, Adam Gilchrist and Viv Richards wasn't some foreign mercenary with the right ancestors who had slipped under England's radar.

He didn't learn his cricket in places like Cape Town or Durban or Jo'berg, like some key members of the England team.

He was Kevin O'Brien of the Railway Union club presided over by his brother Ger, an all-rounder who had a fleeting run in one-day county cricket with Nottinghamshire two years ago but never won the kind of attention achieved by his compatriots Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan.

But now, at least for a little while, he was the king of the world he and his family had embraced as other Irishmen take up the hurleys or the soccer ball.

His father Brendan played 52 times for Ireland. His brother Niall is a team-mate in the national team.

This was the stunning context of an achievement that singed the pages of World Cup cricket history. Six sixes bore him to the fastest century in the tournament's history, a century in 50 balls -- 16 less than the record of the hulking Hayden, 22 better than the quickest of the sublime hitter Adam Gilchrist.

He was eloquent enough about the impetus of his glory.

"We could have fiddled around and made a decent score," he said of the situation when Ireland were 111 for five in pursuit of England's 327 built by the half centuries of Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. "But that would have been boring for everyone. At first I chanced my arm, and then I thought, 'we can do this, why not?'"

Why not indeed? Why not feed on the unease of a team of stars who have shown signs of strain in recent weeks, who have been on the road for a long time and are showing more than a hint of battle fatigue? That was none of O'Brien's concern, nor that of his superb ally John Mooney.


Their imperative was simply to seize their moment. Judiciously, they had to hit the cover off the ball, and each time they did it you could see the English resolve slip down a little further.

The ruling ICC have concluded that the 'associated' nations, those who do not play Test cricket and make up the numbers every four years when the World Cup comes round, present too much of an arduous organisational challenge. They create a cluttering effect. As competitive fodder goes, they are maybe not worth the trouble.

In Bangalore yesterday Kevin O'Brien pretty much did for the theory as he disposed of the English bowling. Whatever happens in the long weeks ahead, he made this World Cup quite unforgettable. He unearthed the best of any sport.

Irish Independent

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