Historic O'Brien ton has Irish dreaming of shock win
Kevin O'Brien wrote himself into the record books again at Malahide yesterday by scoring Ireland's first Test century, an epic knock that allowed the new boys to dream of a comeback victory over Pakistan that would match any of the storylines in the game's rich history.
The owner of the fastest World Cup century - that stunning 50-ball effort against England in 2011 - took 186 deliveries to reach the mark this time, with 10 fours, and added two more to reach stumps on 118 not out, with Ireland 319-7 and leading by 139.
O'Brien has looked a veteran of the Test arena in his first five-day match.
He scored a quality 40 in the first innings before flailing into the covers but gave no chances yesterday as he dominated the pace and spin of Pakistan, quietly accumulating ones and twos interspersed by powerful drives.
A potentially match-winning lead was something the home side could not begin to imagine before Stuart Thompson joined O'Brien in a seventh-wicket partnership of 114 that spanned across the tea interval.
Thompson, so long the talented under-achiever, showed why the selectors have stuck with him as he went to a half-century with his sixth boundary, a fierce pull through mid-wicket, but fell for 53 when he was beaten on the back foot and bowled by a sharp leg-spinner.
"It was a very proud, emotional moment for me," O'Brien said.
"It means joining an elite band who have scored centuries on their Test debut and it has also given us a great chance of going on and winning the game.
"It's a new-ball pitch and one or two are starting to keep low as we head towards the end so if we can bat on for another hour and a half, get the lead up to 170 and then nip a couple out early on then you never know.
"It's still sinking in but I think my Bangalore century is still my favourite but it'll be nice to get this one up on the imaginary honours board."
Ed Joyce, a sentimental favourite to score that first Test century, had added a cover-driven boundary to his overnight 39 when he ran himself out, calling for a single to wide mid-on and finding his 39-year-old legs just unable to beat a direct hit.
Andy Balbirnie followed, lbw for a second time, as he became the unwanted owner of Ireland's first pair of ducks, while Niall O'Brien lost two stumps after making a chaotic 18 in which he could have run himself out for nought and gave skipper William Porterfield a mighty scare.
The Ireland captain's 120-ball stay was ended on 32 by a slip catch, Paul Stirling was struck on the front pad as his bat made contact too late and when Gary Wilson edged to slip Ireland were still 23 behind with only four wickets in hand.
O'Brien and Thompson then began to drain the urgency from the fielding side, or maybe the visitors just fancied enjoying the local hospitality for another night, because taking the second new ball with only one or two slips in place and very little aggression all but ensured a fifth day - and what a thriller it could be.
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