Death bowling in the spotlight after O'Brien blitz saves day
KEVIN O'BRIEN revived memories of THAT innings four years ago as his broad bat again rescued Ireland from a tricky situation with a barrage of fours and sixes to set up a nerve-tingling two-wicket World Cup victory over the United Arab Emirates at the Gabba.
Two wins from two games puts Ireland joint top of qualifying Pool B - behind India and the West Indies on net run-rate - and sent the squad down to Canberra in good heart for the challenge of South Africa next week.
It was Brisbane not Bangalore and his partner in the match-turning partnership was Gary Wilson this time, but O'Brien's stunning half-century from 25 balls was every bit as important than his masterpiece against England. Possibly more so.
Why? Because this was the one game Ireland were favourites to win, and to lose it - as they were doing before O'Brien made his way to the middle - would have undone the good work of the West Indies victory and dealt a huge blow to hopes of reaching the last eight.
That glorious century against England broke records and enraptured a nation - but it didn't enable Ireland to progress to the quarter-finals; yesterday's effort just might.
"We fought back well from a position where we were behind the eight-ball to get over the line with four balls to spare," said O'Brien. "That's a great two points, another win, and we go forward from here.
"We did some really good things in this game. The first half with our bowling and the second half of the batting were exceptional. There's stuff we've got to work on as well."
The major area for analysis will be to determine why in both games Ireland have leaked so many runs in the last 15 overs. The death bowling has not been up to scratch. The West Indies recovered from 137-5 to reach 304, while the UAE were 131-6 but still posted a competitive 278-9, thanks to a century by Shaiman Anwar.
The coaching fashion is to bowl 'slower ball bouncers' in the final overs. This may well be a tactic that is statistically proven to be effective against the world's top batsmen but it was meat and drink to the part-timers of the Gulf.
Perhaps Ireland missed a trick by not bowling "properly" at the death, and another by dropping spinner Andy McBrine in favour of seamer Alex Cusack. In the absence of genuine pace, and with Paul Stirling looking good as he took 2-27 with his offies, maybe the answer is more spin.
The luck was with the Irish reply when Ed Joyce nicked a ball into his off-stump only for the bails to rise and then settle again, but the runs certainly weren't as the top order bumbled along at four an over. William Porterfield, Joyce and Andy Balbirnie all got to the 30s without being able to make much of an impression, and when O'Brien entered the fray Ireland needed an unlikely 107 to win from only 68 balls with just five wickets in hand.
The Railway Union man proceeded to smash eight fours and two mighty sixes - the second an extraordinary blow - and departed six overs later with the target down to 35 from 32.
With four wickets still in hand and Gary 'The Finisher' Wilson having already advanced to his first half-century for Ireland since last February's ODI against the West Indies, the game was won, but as coach Phil Simmons said "for some reason we never like to make things easy for ourselves".
Wilson, whose well-paced 80 from 69 balls won him man of the match, was out immediately after his ninth boundary had reduced the target to 12 from 16 balls and it needed the steady nerve of No 10 George Dockrell to see Ireland home with a couple of slaps to off.
What happens next . . .
WHEN the excitement had died down in Brisbane, the realisation began to dawn that the job of qualifying for the World Cup quarter-finals was probably only half done.
What's clear is that Ireland need two more victories from their remaining four Pool B matches against South Africa, Zimbabwe, India and Pakistan to be sure of a place in the last eight.
One more win - particularly in the last game against Pakistan - could also be enough, though it's beginning to look as though there will be more than one team finishing with three wins. In that case, qualification would be decided by the best net run-rate - and Ireland's isn't particularly good.
The key games:
Friday (3.30am): South Africa v West Indies, Sydney - A third win for the West Indies would heap the pressure on South Africa, who were surprisingly beaten heavily by India
Sunday (3.30am): Zimbabwe v Pakistan, Brisbane - Must-win for Pakistan who have already lost by large margins to India and the West Indies.
Tuesday, March 3 (3.30am): Ireland v South Africa, Canberra - Ireland will give it a lash but will be massive underdogs.
Saturday, March 7 ((1.0am): South Africa v Pakistan - Ireland need a South Africa victory from this one, preferably by a large margin to further damage Pakistan's run-rate.
Saturday, March 7 (3.30am):
Ireland v Zimbabwe - If Zimbabwe beat Pakistan, this game could be the decider for fourth place, and Ireland should relish the conditions in Tasmania
Tuesday, March 10 (1.0am): India v Ireland - India look the dominant side in the pool; for Ireland, avoiding a rout that destroys net run-rate could be key.
Sunday, March 15 (3.30am): Ireland v Pakistan - It's probable that Ireland will still have a chance to qualify come this final match even if they are still looking for a third win.
Another factor is the weather. The sun doesn't always shine and there is no provision for replaying abandoned games.