Monday 21 October 2019

O'Brien evokes memories of steamy Bangalore

Pakistan tour de force a superior effort to World Cup century against England, writes Gerard Siggins

Gerard Siggins

THERE may have been more than 30 degrees celsius of separation between the events, but the crowd at Clontarf last week still got a good idea of what it was like to be in Bangalore two years ago.

The steamy Indian night that Kevin O'Brien demolished England has already gone down in our sporting history, but he almost emulated that innings on Thursday as Ireland missed out by one run on another famous victory over Pakistan.

As a chill wind bore down from the Arctic circle, numbing the skilful fingers of some of the best spinners in the world, Ireland once again showed they could be competitive with a top side. The teams play again today, and whether the visitors were even a tiny bit complacent in game one of the RSA Insurance ODI series, that won't be the case today. Even the weather is unlikely to conspire against them.

In some ways O'Brien's unbeaten 84 was a superior effort to the match-winning 113. In the World Cup, he was, relatively speaking, under little pressure – Ireland were virtually dead and buried, needing well over 200 when O'Brien came to the wicket and the top five batsmen out. With no expectations he had a freedom to play aggressively and by the time England realised what was happening, their defeat was almost inevitable.

On Thursday, he came to the wicket after Paul Stirling had given Ireland a great chance to win. In gathering gloom against some of the top bowlers in the world, O'Brien played a brilliantly-paced innings which included several high-quality strokes.

The all-rounder has periodically infuriated Irish fans for a lack of consistency – he still hasn't made a century since the England epic, and this was only his second 50 in his last 34 innings – but O'Brien believes he is getting better and better.

"The more you play the more you get to draw on your experience," he told the Sunday Independent this weekend. "I'm 29 now, and I've been playing international cricket for seven years. I've been in similar situations before and I can draw on that experience and learn from it, like when to go for the big shots and when to push a single. It helps that we're now fully contracted to Cricket Ireland as I can now focus fully on cricket, so I can work at fitness as well as batting and bowling."

O'Brien is also at the heart of the pioneering interprovincial set-up, and captaining Leinster Lightning has given further depth to his outlook.

"With Leinster, and my club Railway Union, I have to lead from the front more, which is valuable experience. I've stepped up as Ireland captain when William Porterfield is away and, while it's a lot more difficult than I thought, it's something I really enjoy.

"The Interpros are hugely important to where we're going, they've already shown us that there's great talent coming up and the more high-quality games we play the better we get."

O'Brien has been playing without a break since January, taking in Bangladesh and Sharjah before the Irish season began, allowing him to come into form at a crucial juncture. Local fans have already seen him play two similar innings to see his province and club to victory in tense encounters with the Northern Knights and YMCA.

He is keen to test himself more in overseas conditions and this weekend was the only Irish player named in the draft for the new Caribbean Premier League. Since Bangalore, O'Brien has signed on short-term deals to play Twenty20 for Gloucestershire and Somerset in England, and the Rangpur Riders in Bangladesh.

"I just want to play as much as I can," he said. "Whether that's in England, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean or wherever. It's really all about gaining experience in different conditions that will help me become a better player."

O'Brien has the knack of seizing the moment – it is rare that a score of 84 would overshadow two brilliant centuries like those made by Mohammad Hafeez and Paul Stirling – but to expect that two days running is probably unfair.

But the way Thursday's result was greeted by the players shows how far their own expectations have come since the last time they ended a game with scores level.

That was the opening game in the 2007 World Cup against Zimbabwe – with the same umpire, former Arsenal goalkeeper Ian Gould – and the tie was followed by a lap of honour. This week they reacted as if they had been beaten.

RSA Insurance ODI series: Ireland v Pakistan, Clontarf, 10.45am

Irish Independent

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