Specials – The best from Kevin O’Brien’s blade

  Talismanic Irishman Kevin O’Brien became the first cricketer from his country to feature in 100 ODI matches, when he took the field in the final game of the series against Afghanistan at Belfast last week. The Dublin-born all-rounder has been one of the lynchpins of the Irish team over the past decade.

   O’Brien, who is Ireland’s second-highest run-getter and highest wicket-taker in ODIs, has a record of 2561 runs at 32.01 and 88 wickets at 30.84 thus far. His powerful hitting in the middle order, coupled with his crafty medium pace bowling, has made him a household name across the cricketing world.

  While O’Brien’s bowling has no doubt stymied many a run flow in the middle overs and is an asset to his team in its own right, it is his explosive batting that has won him a legion of fans in the past few years. As a tribute to his century of ODIs, we look back at five of his best batting performances in the 50-over game.

1) 113 v England at Bangalore, 2010-11

  In what was arguably the most staggering run chase in the history of ODI cricket, O’Brien blazed his way into the record books with the fastest World Cup hundred of all time. And the fact that it came against a Test nation – England, no less – made it one of the most heroic international innings ever played.

  Ireland had the worst possible start in reply to England’s massive 327/8 as captain William Porterfield was bowled off the very first ball. Even the most optimistic of Irish fans would have had lost hope when the score wobbled to 111/5 at the halfway mark. But then O’Brien – who had come in at 106/4 – decided to take matters into his own hands.

  O’Brien proceeded to inflict a barrage of fours and sixes on the English bowlers, who simply had no answer to the hitting spree. He reached his half-century off 31 balls while his second fifty made the first look sedate in comparison. He lit up the Chinnaswamy Stadium with a scarcely believable effort that stunned and delighted the crowd in equal measure.

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     Kevin O’Brien played the most extraordinary World Cup innings to power Ireland to a historic win against England at Bangalore in 2011 (source – the42.ie)

  He let out a celebratory roar as he got to his 50-ball hundred with a double off Michael Yardy in the 41st over. The previous fastest World Cup hundred was made by Australia’s Matthew Hayden in 2007, off 66 balls. O’Brien’s sixth-wicket stand with Alex Cusack fetched 162 runs, and it was enough to bury England’s chances.

  When he was finally run out, O’Brien had brought Ireland to within 12 runs of a famous victory, which was duly achieved by three wickets off the first ball of the final over. His score read a mind-boggling 113 from 63 balls, with 13 fours and six sixes.

  The sight of the pink-haired O’Brien powering his side to the highest successful run-chase in the World Cup will be remembered for as long as cricket exists. Besides taking Irish cricket to another level altogether, his innings also gave a fitting riposte to the parochial ICC.

2) 84* v Pakistan at Dublin, 2013

  Faced with a stiff target, O’Brien nearly guided Ireland to a sensational victory against Pakistan. A rain intervention meant that Pakistan’s innings was curtailed after 47 overs, in which they scored 266/5. The D/L target for the hosts was 276 from 47 overs.

  Paul Stirling gave the chase a bright start and went on to score a brisk 103. When O’Brien came in to bat at 158/2, the requirement was 113 from 85 balls. It was a situation tailor-made for him, and he proceeded to launch an onslaught on the Pakistani bowlers.

  He raced to his fifty in just 27 balls, keeping Ireland in the hunt as the match went down to the wire. The much-vaunted Saeed Ajmal, who was taken for 0/71 in his ten overs, was to bowl the final over from which 15 runs were needed with five wickets still in the bank; O’Brien the man on strike.

  Only two runs were managed off the first three balls, which left O’Brien with the task of scoring 13 off the last three. He determinedly clouted a six over long on before squeezing a couple. A flick down to the boundary off the final ball ensured that the match was tied, O’Brien scoring 84* off 47 balls with 11 fours and two sixes.

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      Kevin O’Brien rescued Ireland from a worrying position against UAE in the 2015 World Cup, hitting 50 in just 25 balls (source – AFP)

3) 50 v United Arab Emirates at Brisbane, 2014-15

  Ireland had convincingly beaten the West Indies in their opening clash of the 2015 World Cup, but found themselves in a spot of bother against lower-ranked UAE in their next match at Brisbane. UAE had recovered from 131/6 to post a challenging 278/9.

  Ireland were progressing well at 72/1 in the 19th over, but soon fell to 97/4 with half the overs already used. A 74-run stand between Andrew Balbirnie and Gary Wilson ensued, but when the former was dismissed, the equation was still delicate – 108 to win from 68 balls.

  In walked O’Brien, the game-changer. He signalled his intent immediately, getting off the mark with a boundary. The pressure was back on the UAE bowlers as he displayed his characteristic calculated hitting, collecting at least two fours per over to bring down the required run rate.

  The 45th over began with O’Brien clearing the boundary twice in three balls, before Amjad Javed got one back, having him caught at extra cover. His breezy 50 from 25 balls, studded with eight fours and two sixes, gave Ireland the upper hand, and after a few anxious moments, the men in green sneaked a two-wicket win.

4) 142 v Kenya at Nairobi, 2006-07

  Ireland took part in the ICC World Cricket League in Kenya a month before their memorable World Cup sojourn. In their third match, they were up against the hosts at the Ruaraka Sports Club. This was O’Brien’s fifth ODI.

  Ireland had stumbled to 57/3 in the 15th over when O’Brien joined opener William Porterfield in the middle. The duo proceeded to turn their team’s fortunes around and stitched together a record partnership of 227 – the highest in ODIs by an Irish pair – for the fourth wicket.

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       Irish captain Trent Johnston (left) and Kevin O’Brien exult after the former hit the winning six against Pakistan in the 2007 world Cup (source – AP/guardian.co.tt)

  While Porterfield (104*) was the more subdued of the two, O’Brien played the role of the aggressor. It was not until the last ball of the innings that they were separated, when O’Brien was run out for a glittering 142 from 128 balls, including ten fours and six sixes. This was his first ODI hundred and remains his highest score.

  Kenya however ensured that O’Brien’s effort went in vain, as they overhauled the robust total of 284/4 with an over to spare. Down for the count at 231/9 in the 44th over, they were indebted to Thomas Odoyo, who cracked an unbeaten 61 to star in the one-wicket win.

5) 16* v Pakistan at Kingston, 2006-07

  This innings may not denote much by number, but it was worth its weight in gold during a tense chase. The Irish bowlers had dared to dream by bowling Pakistan out for 132 in their second match of the 2007 World Cup at the historic Sabina Park, and the onus was now on the batsmen.

  Ireland were reduced to 15/2 in reply before the reliable Niall O’Brien, elder brother of Kevin, began to play a superb innings on a difficult pitch. At 70/4, Ireland were not yet out of the woods when the younger O’Brien joined his sibling.

  The two shared in a crucial fifth-wicket partnership of 38 runs in ten overs, defying Pakistan’s resilient bowling until Niall was stumped for 72. Two more wickets fell within the next over and Ireland were now 113/7, still 15 runs away from their D/L target of 128.

  However, Kevin O’Brien would not let his brother’s knock go waste. He curbed his natural game and battled for 92 minutes to end with an unbeaten 16 from 52 balls with two fours. It was captain Trent Johnston who ultimately hit the winning six to seal a three-wicket victory, and Irish cricket was never the same again.

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