Magic O'Brien spell pushes Ireland closer to World Cup
KEVIN O'BRIEN turned to the other side of his all-round game to bowl Ireland to a crucial 88-run victory over the Netherlands in the first of two World Cup qualifiers in the Amsterdam suburbs.
Better known for his explosive exploits with the bat – including that famous 50-ball century against England – O'Brien's spell of 4-13 put Ireland on the brink of qualifying for a third successive 50-overs World Cup.
William Porterfield and Niall O'Brien had made battling half-centuries to take the visiting side to 236 all out on a pitch where timing and strokeplay were never easy.
Porterfield was out in the final over of the innings for 79 from 118 balls, while Niall O'Brien worked the gaps well for 70 in a partnership of 125 with his skipper for the third wicket.
There were a few fears at half-time that Ireland were 30-40 runs short of par, but the wiser heads among the several dozen Irish fans at the VRA Ground knew that a player of Porterfield's class does not bat through an innings for a low score on an easy pitch.
Tim Murtagh made an early breakthrough for the Irish and Paul Stirling took two wickets with his off-spin, but the Dutch were in control of their chase before the younger O'Brien began his mesmerising seven-over spell.
Dangerman Tom Cooper holed out in his first over, pulling a short ball to deep midwicket, a shot that was repeated by Wesley Baresi, the second-best batsman in the home line-up, who top-scored with 55.
In between, O'Brien got a couple of deliveries to stick in the surface for two more catches, the second a stunning one-handed effort, diving low to the right off his own bowling. His figures of 4-13 are his best in ODIs.
From a threatening 77-2 with Cooper and Baresi at the crease, the Netherlands were 112-7 when O'Brien took his sweater and left George Dockrell, John Mooney and Alex Cusack to mop up.
The Dutch were dismissed for 148 at the end of the 36th over to send Ireland four points clear at the top of the qualifying table.
Only three heavy defeats – by around 80 runs each time – to the Netherlands tomorrow and twice at home to Scotland in September will now deny Ireland a place in the 2015 finals in Australia and New Zealand.