Specials – Recalling the best of the 2007 World Cup

  It has been ten years since the ninth edition of the Cricket World Cup, which began in the Caribbean on 13th March, 2007 and featured a record 16 teams.

  The tournament drew considerable flak from many quarters for its long-drawn format and overpriced tickets, not to mention the embarrassing gaffe by the umpires in the rain-reduced final between Australia and Sri Lanka.

  According to the critics, the shocking death of Pakistan’s coach Bob Woolmer and the early ousters of marquee teams such as India and Pakistan further dampened the tournament that was trumpeted to be the world’s biggest cricket carnival.

  However, the showpiece event saw plenty of eye-catching performances and fairytale moments that are still fresh in the memory even after a decade. For instance, Ireland’s remarkable giant-killing journey is now part of cricketing folklore, while Australia blitzed to their third successive title with a ruthless domination over every team they faced.

  Let us look back at the best from the saga that was the 2007 World Cup:

A rush of records

  A clutch of new World Cup records were created in the 2007 edition. India became the first team to surpass the 400-run barrier, scoring 413/5 against Bermuda; their 257-run win becoming the biggest victory margin.

  A record aggregate of 671 was gathered as well, in the group match between Australia and South Africa at Basseterre; in the same match, Matthew Hayden scored the fastest World Cup hundred, off 66 balls. All these records have since been broken.

Australia conquer one and all

  Never before had any team imposed their supremacy in a World Cup tournament in the manner Australia did in 2007. Gunning for a hat trick of titles, Ricky Ponting’s men won all eleven matches in thumping fashion to reaffirm their status as the undisputed kings of ODI cricket. 

  They reserved their most clinical display for New Zealand – the team that had whitewashed them 3-0 in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy in the lead-up to the tournament. The Black Caps were thrashed by a whopping 215 runs at St. George’s in the Super Eight stage as Australia provided a rude reminder that no one could hold a candle to them on the biggest stage of them all.

     Australia, who were undefeated throughout the tournament, won their third successive World Cup trophy (source – icc-cricket.com)

  Their inevitable march towards glory culminated with handsome wins over South Africa – who crashed to 27/5 after batting first – and Sri Lanka in the semi-final and final respectively.

Pluck of the Irish

  First-time participants Ireland, clubbed in a tough Group D, were the toast of the tournament as they won the hearts of all and sundry with their spunky campaign that produced two memorable wins and a tie against full member teams.

  Led by the spirited Trent Johnston, the Irish first held Zimbabwe to a nerve-shredding tie at Kingston to show that they were not going to be pushovers as the tournament progressed.

  Four days later – on St. Patrick’s Day, no less – at the same venue, Ireland astonished the cricket world by bowling 1992 champions Pakistan out for 132 and then winning by three wickets, thanks to Niall O’Brien’s superb 72. They went on to collect another scalp in the Super Eight round, in the form of Bangladesh, who were resoundingly beaten by 74 runs at Bridgetown.

Tigers come of age

  On the same day that Ireland knocked Pakistan out, Bangladesh put India on the brink of elimination with a famous five-wicket win at Port-of-Spain. Disciplined bowling from the Tigers ensured that the fancied Indian batsmen could manage no more than 191.

  This win was the ticket they needed to make it to the Super Eight, wherein they upset South Africa by 67 runs. After enduring a winless campaign in 2003, this was a much-needed boost for Bangladeshi cricket.

Pigeon flies off in style

  A couple of months before the World Cup, the great Glenn McGrath had a triumphant end to his Test career as Australia regained the Ashes with a 5-0 win at home.

  His ODI farewell was even sweeter, as he topped the bowling charts at the World Cup with a record tally of 26 wickets at a stunning average of 13.73, for which he was named Player of the Tournament. His penetrative bowling at the top proved that this Pigeon could fly high even at the age of 37.

      Playing in their first World Cup, unfancied Ireland conjured memorable wins over Pakistan and Bangladesh (source – icc-cricket.com)

Gilchrist squashes the Lankans

  Australian legend Adam Gilchrist pounded the Sri Lankan attack with a whirlwind 149 from 104 balls in the rain-hit final at Bridgetown. This title-clinching innings – the highest ever in a World Cup final – was studded with 13 fours and eight sixes, and knocked the wind out of the opposition, which was hoping for an encore of the 1996 summit clash when Australia were at the receiving end.

  Gilchrist’s assault carried Australia to a winning total of 281/4 in the allotted 38 overs. The secret to his powerful hitting turned out to be a squash ball, which he had placed in the glove of his bottom hand and credited it for giving him a better grip.

  It was an unusual tactic to employ, but certainly not illegal. With this win by 53 runs on the D/L method, Australia stretched their unbeaten streak in the World Cup to 30 matches, dating back to 1999.

That catch by Dwayne Leverock

  Bermudan policeman Dwayne Leverock, weighing in at over 280 pounds, provided one of the most iconic World Cup moments when he took a catch at first slip off the bowling of 17-year-old Malachi Jones to dismiss India’s Robin Uthappa in a Group B match at Port-of-Spain.

  Leverock dived to the right to take a stunning one-handed catch, after which he took off on a celebratory run across the field even as Jones wept with joy. “He has flown like a gazelle…the earth shook! Oh what a catch!”, exclaimed commentator David Lloyd on air.

  Though India had the last laugh, smashing 413/5, then the highest World Cup total , en route a 257-run victory, Leverock made sure that he attained cult status with his gravity-defying exhibition of athleticism.

Gibbs goes hammer and tongs

  Exciting South African stroke-maker Herschelle Gibbs became the first man to hit six sixes in an over in international cricket, when he achieved the rare feat against the Netherlands in a Group A match at Basseterre. The unfortunate bowler to suffer this onslaught was leg-spinner Daan van Bunge, who returned forgettable figures of 4-0-56-0 as South Africa romped home by 221 runs.

       South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs became the first man to hit six sixes in an over in international cricket, achieving the feat against the Netherlands (source – rediff.com)

  In what was a rain-reduced 40-over affair, the Proteas were warming up nicely at 178/2 when the historic 30th over began. The first one went over long-on, the next two were smote over long-off, the fourth slogged over deep mid-wicket, the fifth swatted over wide long-off and finally another over deep mid-wicket. Gibbs scored 72 from just 40 balls as South Africa piled up 353/3.

‘Slinga’ Malinga creates history

  Sri Lanka’s curly-haired speedster Lasith Malinga, renowned for his slingshot action, became the first man to capture four wickets in four balls in any form of international cricket during his side’s Super Eight clash with South Africa at Providence.

  Needing 210 for victory, South Africa seemed home and dry at 206/5 when Malinga dismissed Shaun Pollock (bowled) Andrew Hall (caught at cover) off the last two balls of the 45th over. He returned in the 47th over and duly removed the well-settled Jacques Kallis (caught behind) for 86 and Makhaya Ntini (bowled) off the first two balls to reduce the score to 207/9.

  Nevertheless, South Africa eventually scampered home by one wicket, Malinga’s 4/54 going in vain. His was the fifth instance of World Cup hat-trick, and in 2011, he became the first bowler to take two World Cup hat-tricks.

Swansongs galore

  As aforementioned, Glenn McGrath had the perfect send-off from international cricket, but other illustrious names were not as lucky. Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq bid a tearful farewell to ODI cricket, bowing out from what was a nightmarish tourney for his team in the last group game against Zimbabwe.

  West Indian captain Brian Lara too quit international cricket, after his team failed to meet the expectations of the home crowd. Yet another captain to retire from ODI cricket following the World Cup was England’s Michael Vaughan, while New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming gave up the captaincy after ten years at the helm.

  Furthermore, Greg Chappell and Duncan Fletcher, respective coaches of India and England, resigned from their posts. Victorious Australian coach John Buchanan also called time on a highly successful eight-year tenure.

Specials – When a bunch of amateurs nearly capsized the table-toppers

  Ten years ago, a motley crew of amateurs from the Emerald Isle embarked upon a life-changing expedition to the Caribbean. They had among their ranks a teacher, an electrician, a postman, a fabric salesman and a handyman. Little did they know that over the next month and  half, they were to become the new darlings of international cricket.

  Clubbed with hosts West Indies, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, the Irish unknowns were naturally written off by pundits and laymen alike even before they had set foot. It did not matter that Ireland had beaten two of their group rivals on the 50-over scene earlier. They had come off a poor World Cricket League outing in Nairobi and were just not meant to make it to the second round.

  However, a mere five days into the tournament, Ireland tore the form book and awakened the ignorant from their slumber. Back home, few were even aware that the national team was at the World Cup. The men in green first tied with Zimbabwe and then memorably dispatched Pakistan on St. Patrick’s Day. Not only did they enter the second round, they did it with a game to spare.

  On 5th March, 2007, 12 days before they knocked Pakistan out, Ireland took on mighty South Africa in the first of two warm-up fixtures. The Proteas had been freshly crowned as the world’s top-ranked ODI side, toppling defending World Cup champions Australia off their perch, if only briefly. Incidentally, South Africa were the first Test nation that Ireland ever beat, back in 1904.

  The scene for this warm-up match was the nondescript Sir Frank Worrell Memorial Ground in the town of Saint Augustine – having a population of less than 5,000 – in north-western Trinidad and Tobago. Each side had the liberty to play up to 13 players, of which 11 could bat and field. South Africa were at full strength, and were widely expected to win in a canter.

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        Irish pace bowler Dave Langford-Smith celebrates after dismissing South Africa’s A.B de Villiers in a 2007 World Cup warm-up match (source – gettyimages)

  After Graeme Smith elected to bat first, Irish pluck came to the fore in the form of Sydney-born fast bowler David Langford-Smith, who had become the first Irishman to take an ODI wicket nine months before, when he dismissed a certain Ed Joyce at Belfast. He set the tone by removing Smith, caught behind by Niall O’Brien with the total at 15.

  Eleven runs later, Langford-Smith collected his second scalp, breaking through the defences of Abraham de Villiers, who was still a few years away from being christened as cricket’s ‘Mr. 360’. It got even better when the great Jacques Kallis too failed to read Langford-Smith’s medium pace, losing his woodwork in the process. The triple strike had reduced South Africa to 42/3.

  Herschelle Gibbs seemed to be in an attacking mood, having belted four boundaries in his 21, when the resolute Trent Johnston stopped him in his tracks by castling him to make it 57/4. Gibbs was the first of Johnston’s four victims, as the Wollongong-born Irish captain proceeded to make a mockery of the South African middle order with his tricky seam bowling.

  The wicket of Ashwell Prince ensured that the top five of the South African line-up were back in the hut with only 64 on the board. Ireland’s glee was soon escalated when the dangerous Shaun Pollock nicked one to the keeper and Loots Bosman got clean bowled in the same Johnston over. The number one ODI team had lost five for nine, and were now tottering at an unthinkable 66/7.

  As long as Mark Boucher was there in the middle, the innings had every chance of a revival. But John Mooney’s innocuous medium pace induced him to offer a catch to Kevin O’Brien, one of the better fielders in the Irish side. Ireland’s joy knew no bounds as South Africa were left gasping for breath at 91/8. Was an upset on the cards even before the tournament started?

  Andrew Hall thought otherwise though. The all-rounder, who came in at the fall of the seventh wicket, calmly rebuilt from the rubble with an unbeaten 67 off 98 balls. He found support from Robin Peterson, and together they frustrated the Irish with a ninth-wicket stand worth 85. South Africa-born Andre Botha, who played first-class cricket for Griqualand West, took the last two wickets.

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      Irish captain Trent Johnston, who took 4/40, exults after taking the wicket of Ashwell Prince at St. Augustine (source – gettyimages)

  South Africa recovered to post 192 in exactly 50 overs, a total that was certainly within the realm of possibility for Ireland to chase. Johnston finished with 4/40 from ten overs while Langford-Smith collected 3/30 from eight. It was now up to the batsmen to deliver and supplement such a fine display by the bowlers, South Africa’s rearguard notwithstanding.

  Jeremy Bray perished early, caught behind off speedster Andre Nel for a single, but fellow opener William Porterfield held the innings together with a composed 37 despite losing Eoin Morgan and Niall O’Brien at the other end, both falling to Hall. It was Roger Telamachus who dislodged Porterfield, caught by Smith, to put Ireland in a dicey situation at 85/4.

  Kevin O’Brien then joined Botha in the middle, and the pair guided Ireland to a position of real strength with a fifth-wicket partnership of 54. Only 54 runs now separated the underdogs from an astonishing victory, and they still had six wickets in hand. Botha’s caught-behind dismissal to Nel for 40 however gave South Africa the opening they so desperately needed.

  The inexperience of the Irish batsmen proved to be their undoing and they suffered a meltdown, thus squandering their grip on the contest. The lower order failed to capitalise on the gains made thus far as pacemen Hall (3/30) and Charl Langeveldt (4/31) combined to dispose the last five wickets for just 11 runs. Kevin O’Brien tried his best to hang around, but was ninth out for 33.

  The Irish innings wound up at 157 in 44.2 overs, leaving South Africa relived victors by a narrow margin of 35 runs. Ireland’s bowlers, led by Langford-Smith (4/41) starred again in the second warm-up game against Canada three days later to help secure an easy seven-wicket win for their side.

  It may have just been a warm-up and Ireland may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but the spirit that emanated from their performance against a star-studded outfit that day was carried right into the tournament, during which they delighted their supporters and made the cricket world sit up and take notice of their exploits. Irish cricket was never the same again.

Match Scorecard

In Focus – Ireland Women create history in style

  A week after levelling the two-match T20 series with a maiden win over South Africa, Ireland’s sprightly women have created history again by winning the final match of the ODI leg. This is the first time that Ireland – whether men or women – have defeated South Africa in an ODI.

  Though South Africa had already wrapped the four-match series with easy wins in the first three ODIs, Ireland, led by Laura Delany, had everything to play for in the concluding battle at the Hills Cricket Club ground in Dublin. They went on to produce an utterly convincing display to prove that they are no pushovers.

  South Africa never really got going after deciding to bat amid windy conditions. 20-year-old vice-captain Kim Garth bowled a tight spell and was duly rewarded with the wickets of openers Laura Wolvaardt and Trisha Chetty, who had scored 105 and 95 respectively in the third ODI.

  From thereon, the Proteas were stifled by an increasingly disciplined Irish bowling attack. Medium pacer Louise McCarthy got rid of the dangerous Mignon du Preez – who had scored an unbeaten century in the second ODI – before Garth (3/27) came back to grab her third scalp in the form of Lara Goodall.

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     Former captain and star all-rounder Isobel Joyce scored an unbeaten 62* to guide Ireland to victory (source – cricketireland.ie)

  With South Africa reeling at 57/4, the hosts now had a firm grip on the proceedings. Andrie Steyn scored a plucky 43, but wickets at regular intervals nullified her efforts. Captain Dinesha Devnarain was brilliantly run out by Lucy O’Reilly while rookie Gaby Lewis – all of 15 years of age – accounted for Sune Luus with her leg spin.

  Just when Steyn and Chloe Tyron were attempting a recovery, veteran Ciara Metcalfe had the former caught behind by Mary Waldron, who took four catches. O’Reilly joined the party as well, nailing Yolandi Fourie thanks to a catch from Isobel Joyce, before Metcalfe (3/23) collected the last two wickets, including Tyron’s, to restrict the opposition to a measly 143.

  Having conceded totals of 283, 272 and 260 in the first three games, this was a significant improvement from the bowlers and the onus now lay upon the batting line-up to finish the task. The start was a bit wobbly – Clare Shillington, Una Raymond-Hoey and Cath Dalton were all back in the hut within 16 overs.

  Shillington had raced to a breezy 28 to give the chase a bright start, but her innings was cut short by a direct hit from Ayabonga Khaka. The evergreen Joyce came in at 68/3 to join Lewis in the middle. Lewis’ maturity belied her years as she admirably dropped anchor while Joyce went on the attack at the other end.

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            Vice-captain Kim Garth took 3/27 to dent South Africa’s top order (source – alloutcricket.com)

  This mixture of caution from the talented youngster and aggression from the senior pro soon blossomed into a commanding partnership, evaporating any faint hopes that the South Africans might have entertained. Joyce reached her fourth ODI fifty from 67 balls with a boundary off Fourie in the 36th over.

  Another boundary from Joyce – her 12th – from the first ball of the next over off Marcia Letsoalo sealed Ireland’s comprehensive seven-wicket victory. The unbroken alliance raised 78 runs in 20.3 overs – Joyce scoring 62* in just 71 balls, Lewis an equally valuable 27* in 70 balls.

  This heart-warming win is yet another addition to the successes of the Irish women’s team over the past couple of years. The T20 win last week was not as much of a surprise as was made out to be, considering Ireland’s consistent growth in the format.

  Last December, Ireland, under the inspirational leadership of Joyce, won the World T20 Qualifier in Thailand by defeating Bangladesh in the final. In the World T20 proper earlier this year, they came within 14 runs of defeating Sri Lanka at Mohali. In 2013-14, they beat Pakistan by six wickets at Doha.

  The women’s game has been infused with new vigour following the rise of the T20 format, and the performances of emerging teams are a welcome development. Ireland Women have been steadily improving and the twin wins against South Africa are a further indication of their unquestionable talent.

Match Scorecard 

Who Would Have Thought It – Ireland’s first and only Test match

  Ireland may have set a target to become a Test team by 2020, but the fact is that the country has already been represented in official Test cricket quite a few years ago. Moreover, not only have Ireland played Test cricket, but they also boast of a 100% winning record.

  The match in question was a solitary Test between Ireland Women and Pakistan Women played at College Park in Dublin and which lasted just two days – 30th and 31st July, 2000. Ireland then were a clearly stronger outfit than Pakistan on the women’s circuit, and the gulf between the sides showed in the result.

  The ODI series preceding this four-day Test featured a string of heavy Irish successes. The hosts began by skittling Pakistan for 95 en route to a nine-wicket win in the first ODI, which was followed by wins with margins of 117 and 150 runs in the next two games. In tough conditions and facing a buoyant home side, the visitors were up against it from the word go.

  While Ireland were on Test debut, the Pakistani women had played one Test match before – against Sri Lanka in 1997-98, in which they were thumped by 309 runs. Led by the seasoned Miriam Grealey, the Irish side for this landmark match bore a mix of youth and experience, the average age being 27.

  The youngest member of the eleven was Isobel Joyce, who stepped down as Irish captain in March 2016. Joyce had just turned 17 and went on to deliver a wonderful bowling performance in this match. She was not even 16 when she made her ODI debut, against India in 1999, and till date remains one of the mainstays of the Ireland team.

  Amid moist conditions following overnight rain, Pakistan captain Shaiza Khan elected to bat on winning the toss, a decision she was probably left to rue. Medium pace bowler Barbara McDonald dominated the early proceedings, as she destroyed Pakistan’s top order with a testing spell of 3/9.

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     A 17-year-old Isobel Joyce starred in Ireland’s inaugural Test with a brilliant bowling display (source – broadsheet.ie)

  McDonald’s burst ensured that Pakistan lost four wickets – including that of the captain – for as many runs to crash to 10/4, the remaining wicket going to leg-spinner Ciara Metcalfe. At the other end, off-spinner Catherine O’Neill gobbled the fifth wicket and Pakistan were staring down the barrel at 21/5.

  Opener Zehmerad Afzal – who presently plays for Cheshire – tried to dig in and shared in a partnership of 29 for the sixth wicket with Deebah Sherazi. However, the latter’s dismissal by O’Neill (3/15) triggered another collapse, as Pakistan succumbed to spin. O’Neill and Metcalfe, who finished with 4/26, made short work of the tail.

  Pakistan lost their last five wickets for just three runs to be bundled out for 53, consuming a painstaking 47.4 overs. Only two women reached double figures, Afzal top-scoring with an obdurate 25. Ireland’s bowling was both stifling and penetrative, as evidenced by 25 maiden overs. Though Saibh Young went wicketless, she conceded only a run in her ten overs.

  Ireland lost Clare O’Leary to Sharmeen Khan for a duck with only five runs on the board, but Pakistan failed to build on this start. Karen Young (58) and Caitriona Beggs (68*) put the game beyond Pakistan’s reach as they added 112 for the second wicket. Nazia Nazir took two wickets, but it hardly unsettled the Irishwomen.

  Wicketkeeper Anne Linehan (27*) belted a few quick runs as Ireland set their sights upon a declaration. With the score reading 193/3 in 47 overs, Brealey decided it was enough, especially since there was always a possibility of rain hampering her team’s onward charge. With a lead of 140 on the first day itself, Ireland were well on top.

  Pakistan reshuffled their batting order for the second innings, but it hardly helped. Sheerazi, promoted to open, was cleaned up by McDonald as the eventful first day drew to a close. A circumspect Pakistan ended the day at 8/1, facing an uphill task to stay alive in the contest.

  The second day belonged to the teeanged Joyce, whose left-arm medium pace proved to be too hot to handle for the visitors. There was no play before lunch due to rain and when the match resumed, Joyce took full advantage of the seam-friendly conditions.

  Joyce began by bowling Sajjida Shah and trapping Nazir LBW, both for ducks, to reduce Pakistan to 8/3. She followed it up by having the talented Kiran Baluch caught behind. Khursheed Jabeen and Afzal attempted a revival by adding 34 for the fifth wicket, but the writing was already on the wall. 

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     Caitriona Beggs top-scored for Ireland in their inaugural Test with an unbeaten 68 (source – womenscricket.net) 

  Afzal top-scored for Pakistan again with 20, before she became the first of three wickets to fall to O’Neill (3/12) while the score regressed from 56/4 to 62/7. Jabeen stoically faced 156 balls, but could manage no more than 13 runs as Joyce returned to complete the last rites.

  The last three wickets all fell bowled to Joyce as Pakistan’s agony came to an end after 54.1 overs, in which they crawled to a total of 86. Joyce, who did not bowl in the first innings and came in only as the fifth bowler in the second, finished with remarkable figures of 6/21 in 11.1 overs.

  Ireland had won their first ever Test match by an innings and 54 runs in less than two days. While Ireland had galloped at 4.11 runs an over, Pakistan managed a rate of just 1.36 across both innings. Joyce was named as the player of the match for her bowling effort. It could not have been a better start.

  Due to the Test getting over in double-quick time, two additional ODI matches were played at the same ground as an extension of the original series. Ireland won the first of these while the second was washed out, giving the home team a 4-0 win in the five-match series. 

  Unfortunately, Ireland’s inaugural Test also turned out to be their last. Women’s Test cricket across the world has gradually declined ever since, and today, except for Australia and England and to a certain extent India, it is virtually a dead concept. The rise of Twenty20 has instead given women’s cricket a highly feasible format.

  Ireland’s women are not alone to have enjoyed a successful start in Test cricket without going on to play their next. Sri Lanka too have never played a Test after beating Pakistan in the aforementioned match. Pakistan themselves have played only three Tests in all and none since 2004. 

  As the Ireland men’s team gears up for the prospect of Test cricket within the next three years, let us not forget their female counterparts’ commendable achievement of winning their first official Test match in resounding fashion sixteen years ago.

Match Scorecard

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.

Viewpoint – Sri Lanka’s journey an inspiration for Ireland

  As the two-match ODI series between Ireland and Sri Lanka gets underway today, it would be interesting to note the similarities between the cricketing stories of the two nations. Both the Emerald Isles took off rapidly after modest beginnings on the cricket scene.

  Sri Lanka’s ascent to the top tier of international cricket is the perfect motivation for Ireland to break the glass ceiling that pervades the game. Sri Lanka announced themselves in their second World Cup in 1979, when they upset India by 47 runs in their last group match. Test status was duly achieved in 1981-82.

  Soon after, India were at the receiving end of Sri Lanka’s first Test victory as well. Test cricket’s newest entrant claimed the 1985-86 series against India with a 149-run win in the second Test at Colombo. In spite of inconsistency in the ensuing years, Sri Lanka had shown enough prowess to justify their elevation to the longer format.

  In the build-up to the 1996 World Cup, the Sri Lankans had developed into one of the most feared ODI outfits. So much so that they were one of the contenders to lift the trophy. They did not disappoint, as they went unbeaten throughout the tournament, eventually dispatching Australia in the final.

  Led by the astute Arjuna Ranatunga, the island nation enjoyed the finest moment of its cricket history. Sri Lanka were World Cup champions within 15 years of becoming a Test nation. Their quick rise has arguably been international cricket’s biggest success story in the past three decades.

  A combination of sheer talent and passion for the game has translated into a strong cricket culture in Sri Lanka which brings its own flavour to the international game. There is no reason why Ireland cannot grow to a similar level in a short period of time. After all, it was only in 1993 that they were admitted as an Associate member of the ICC.

Sri Lanka's Dinesh Chandimal (L) bats during a One Day International cricket match between Ireland and Sri Lanka at Clontarf Cricket Club in Dublin, Ireland, on May 6, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARTUR WIDAK

   Sri Lanka’s rapid rise from an Associate nation to World Cup champions can serve as an inspiration for Ireland to reach similar heights (source – AFP/srilankacricket.lk) 

  Over the next decade and a half, they leapfrogged numerous other teams and made serious strides towards cricket’s elite bastion. Their spirited campaign in the 2007 World Cup won them a legion of admirers worldwide. Characterised by their tenacity, Ireland have gone on to beat as many as five full member teams and today stand at the threshold of the holy grail of Test match cricket.

  Ireland have the capability of not just emulating, but even bettering Sri Lanka’s achievements. The spirit of the players is being backed by an extremely efficient administrative body – something which Sri Lanka have lacked for quite some time now – and an increasing commitment to make cricket a mainstream sport in the public consciousness.

  Awarding Test status to Sri Lanka paid rich dividends both for the national team as well as for international cricket as a whole. With South Africa in isolation, the entry of a new team brought a breath of fresh air to the Test circuit which could have become monotonous with just the six teams playing amongst each other.

  The privilege of full membership provided Sri Lanka with the security of being a part of the international calendar. Much of Sri Lanka’s success from the mid-nineties could be attributed to the constant experience they derived by playing the stronger teams after attaining Test status. By contrast, Ireland’s elevation to the highest level has been long delayed.

  In spite of performing beyond expectations in limited chances, the Irishmen have been treated as outliers. There has hardly been any scope for them to hone their skills by playing tougher opposition outside of ICC events. Although things are looking brighter on this front recently, Ireland need much more encouragement from the cricketing fraternity.

  Sri Lanka’s foray into international cricket brought a whole new fanbase to the game and introduced a number of fresh talents who went on to delight cricket lovers across the globe. From the pluck of Ranatunga to the belligerence of Sanath Jayasuriya, from the wizardry of Muttiah Muralitharan to the finesse of Kumar Sangakkara – the variety they brought greatly enriched the game.

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    Ireland have exceeded expectations thus far, defying the parochial attitude of the ICC and also the threat from major sports in the country (source – espncricinfo.com/gettyimages)

 Ireland have the potential to bestow upon Test cricket their own vibrant brand. The fact that the Irish players have come thus far by defying the parochial attitude of the ICC as well as competition from the major sports in the country speaks volumes of their determination.

  They could well become the next Sri Lanka in terms of talent or the next New Zealand in terms of optimum utilisation of limited resources. A two-division Test structure is being mulled by the ICC and it remains to be seen how beneficial it will be for the Associate nations.

  Ireland are head and shoulders above the rest in the ongoing Intercontinental Cup, with a full 60 points from three matches. Test cricket is in dire need of novelty and a team like Ireland ticks all the boxes. However, they may have to wait for at least two more years.

  With most of Ireland’s golden generation in the last lap of their careers, the next few years will be crucial for the development of the national team. The Inter-Provincial Championships have been a boon for nurturing the next batch of Irish hopefuls. The likes of Andrew Balbirnie, Stuart Poynter, Craig Young and Barry McCarthy are set to take the Irish challenge into the next decade.

  The curtailment of the number of teams for the 2019 World Cup means that Ireland have to be at their best if they are to qualify for the tournament. Zimbabwe may be regressing of late, but Afghanistan have grown to become a potent limited-overs force. With the competition at the foot of the table intense, Ireland need to be at the top of their game.

  It would not be far-fetched to say that as long as Ireland keep on punching above their weight, they stand a realistic chance of winning a World Cup in the next ten to twelve years. They need to look no further than Sri Lanka’s successful cricketing journey for inspiration.

In Focus – Ireland’s ODI journey completes ten years

  13th June marks a decade since Ireland played its first full One-Day International match. Led by Trent Johnston, the boys in green took on England at the scenic Civil Service Cricket Club in Belfast in 2006 and in spite of defeat, displayed spirit and enthusiasm that would typify their performances in the years to come.

  A sell-out crowd of close to 7,000 watched England win by 38 runs – the margin of victory being narrower than most people at the ground would have expected – as Ireland gave a creditable account of themselves. The best Irish batsman was however plying his trade for the opposite camp; Ed Joyce was one of three debutants fielded by England.

  Marcus Trescothick’s commanding 113 paved the way for England’s substantial total of 301/7. He shared in a stand of 143 for the fourth wicket with Ian Bell (80) after England were 92/3. Dave Langford-Smith, who would later have his moments at the 2007 World Cup, and John Mooney picked up three wickets apiece but were on the expensive side. Dominick Joyce, Ed’s younger brother, was out without scoring in the first over of the chase itself.

  Jeremy Bray, Andre Botha (who top-scored with 52) and Kyle McCallan batted grittily and at 118/2 in the 26th over, Ireland were making a good fist of it. However, Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood put paid to any hopes of an upset as they engineered a collapse of 4 for 17 in three overs. Kevin O’Brien and Andrew White put on 74 for the seventh wicket before both fell to Bell, of all bowlers. Mooney hit around a bit from number ten as Ireland ended at a thoroughly respectable 263/9.

  Ireland had secured ODI status and World Cup qualification for the first time in 2005 when they finished second behind Scotland in the ICC Trophy at home. This was just a further confirmation of their recent exploits in the 50-over game, following famous wins over the touring Zimbabweans in 2003 and the West Indians in 2004. Lamentably, official international status was not accorded to either of these matches.

  Prior to these successes, Ireland’s most significant achievement was beating the West Indians at Sion Mills in 1969, where the tourists were shot out for a scarcely believable 25. But one would have to go even further back in time for Ireland’s first ever victory over a Test nation – this was against the South Africans at Dublin’s College Park back in 1904.

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      England’s Marcus Trescothick scored 113 as Ireland went down by 38 runs in their first ODI match at Belfast in 2006 (source – skysports.com)

  Ireland have seldom looked back after having attained ODI status. It did not take them long to record their first ODI win, which came in their second match against hosts Scotland in the European Championship Division One, a tournament which they went on to win. The ICC World Cricket League in Kenya at the start of 2007 was forgettable as Ireland managed only a solitary win in five matches.

  Few would have predicted that the watershed moment of Irish cricket was to arrive in the coming month. Clubbed with Pakistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe in Group D of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, Ireland stunned all and sundry by storming into the Super Eight round after a tie with Zimbabwe and a defeat of Pakistan at Kingston’s Sabina Park on St. Patrick’s Day.

  The discipline and accuracy of the Irish bowlers, helped by the green-tinged wicket, was too much for the Pakistani batsmen to handle as they crumbled for a measly 132. Boyd Rankin and Botha in particular were excellent, with the latter’s remarkably stingy analysis of 8-4-5-2 being the stuff of legend. Yet, the inexperience of the batsmen could have nearly wasted a golden opportunity had it not been for Niall O’Brien.

  The older of the O’Brien brothers scored 72 and single-handedly anchored the chase. No other batsman crossed 16. It was captain Johnston who fittingly hit the winning six, sealing Ireland’s place in World Cup history. A second win against Bangladesh in the next round ensured that Ireland found a place on the ICC ODI table. A bunch of amateurs who were written off as cannon fodder for the stronger teams were the toast of the tournament.

  Ireland’s World Cup success garnered the attention of the cricketing world and as many as three top teams – India, South Africa and West Indies – travelled to the Emerald Isle to play ODIs in 2007. Early in 2008, Ireland played their first overseas bilateral series, losing all three ODIs in Bangladesh. However in the ensuing years, fixtures against full members frustratingly reduced to a trickle.

  2009 saw Ireland qualify for the World Cup again, this time by virtue of winning the qualifying tournament in South Africa. In the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup, Ireland steadily became the world’s leading Associate nation by winning the WCL undefeated. Wins over Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the 2010/11 season proved that they were in for the long run. There was a massive opportunity squandered though when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against mighty Australia in Dublin.

  Ireland entered the 2011 World Cup with a point to prove. The ICC had callously decided to shut the door on the Associates for the 2015 World Cup and the onus was on the Irish, now led by William Porterfield, to be the torchbearers for the ‘have-nots’ of the cricket world. The non-Test playing nations were derided as ‘minnows’ and their very presence in the tournament was being questioned.

  Canada, Kenya and Netherlands had done little to change that opinion, so Ireland decided to take matters in their own hands. On a balmy night in Bangalore, red-haired Kevin O’Brien rampaged against old enemy England to provide the World Cup with its most astonishing spectacle. Ireland came into this game on the back of a narrow defeat to Bangladesh and needed something special to turn the tide.

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         Underdogs Ireland were the story of the 2007 World Cup as they notched famous wins over Pakistan and Bangladesh (source – icc-cricket.com) 

  The English batsmen filled their boots on a flat wicket and piled 327/8. Never before had this big a total been chased down successfully in a World Cup match. Ireland lost Porterfield off the very first ball, and despite positive intent from Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce – back with his native team four years after he last played for England – the writing was on the wall at 111/5 in the 25th over. Or so it seemed.

  With the assured presence of Alex Cusack at the other end, O’Brien unleashed himself on the English bowlers and into the record books. He blitzed the fastest World Cup hundred of all time – from just 50 balls – and ended up with 113 from 63 balls with 13 fours and six of the cleanest sixes one would ever see. By the time he was out in the 49th over, a lost cause had been turned into certain victory, which was duly achieved with five balls to spare. It was a script straight out of a fairytale.

  O’Brien had overnight become the poster boy of Irish cricket. Ireland had well and truly arrived and were no longer pushovers. Even though they did not make the quarterfinals, their performance was enough to put pressure on the ICC to reconsider their decision and hence continue with the 14-team format for the 2015 edition. If the 2007 win over Pakistan was a watershed moment, the 2011 win over England opened the floodgates.

  The significance of defeating England created a deep impact on the Irish cricketing scene. Test cricket was now a realistic prospect, national cricketers had professional contracts, participation had increased manifold and Irish cricket now had a future to look forward to. Yet, between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Ireland played just nine ODIs against Test nations. It was a damning indictment of the indifference with which non-Test nations have been treated over the years.

  Pakistan and England toured Ireland in 2011, Australia in 2012. But one or two sporadic fixtures were hardly what an emerging team needed to further spread its wings. 2013 marked the arrival of a new inter-provincial domestic system consisting of three teams and contested in all three formats. Pakistan, en route to England for the Champions Trophy, played two more ODIs in Dublin in what was a thrilling series.

  Kevin O’Brien was at it again as Ireland were faced with a challenging revised target of 276 in 47 overs in the first game. A breezy 103 from Stirling set the chase up nicely and it ultimately came down to 15 runs off the final over. O’Brien (84* from 47 balls) collected 6,2, 4 off the last three balls to help tie the game. In the second ODI, Ireland let Pakistan off the hook and lost the series in the process.

  Tim Murtagh and Johnston had Pakistan on the mat at 17/4 after Ed Joyce’s sublime 116* guided Ireland to 229/8. However, the hosts could not sustain that level and watched ruefully as the lower order took Pakistan home. Later in the season, England hopped across for their customary solitary ODI, in what was billed as the biggest game of cricket on Irish soil. 

  This game marked the international debut of Ireland’s new ground, The Village at Malahide in Dublin. Bright sunshine greeted a capacity crowd of more than 10,000 as Irish cricket gloriously showed itself off to the world. The cricket itself was of high quality, but Ireland had to endure the disappointment of an English win made possible by one of their own.

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        Ireland’s most memorable ODI win came against England in 2010-11, with Kevin O’Brien smashing the fastest World Cup century  (source – theguardian.com)

  Eoin Morgan, who shifted allegiance to England in 2009 with a desire to play Test cricket was now captain of his adopted team, and he produced a match-winning 124* to propel England to a victory which seemed a distant possibility when the score read 48/4 in reply to Ireland’s 269/7. The home captain Porterfield had earlier made a hundred of his own, striking 112 to delight the crowd. Two Irishmen had scored centuries, yet Ireland ended up on the losing side.

  It was not long after that the ICC proclaimed that the 2019 World Cup would consist of only team teams – and this time the decision was to stay. Come the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Ireland once again had to defy lack of opportunities and the injustice of the powers-that-be to prove that they belonged to the world stage. Direct qualification by winning the WCL was expected, and the next target was a quarterfinal berth down under.

  Ireland’s first opponents were the West Indies at Nelson. Their joy knew no bounds as the Windies slipped to 87/5 after being put in to bat. But a hundred from Lendl Simmons – nephew of Ireland’s long-time coach Phil Simmons – steered the eventual total to a sturdy 304/7. The wicket was however good to bat on, the ground was small and the West Indian attack pedestrian.

  The Irish top order cashed in gleefully and a chase which would have had most teams in a quandary instead turned out to be clinically straightforward. Stirling (92 from 84 balls), Joyce (84 from 67) and Niall O’Brien (79* from 60) all starred and a four-wicket win was achieved with as many as 25 balls unused. This was a match Ireland were expected to win and it was ample proof that they had simply outgrown the ‘Associate’ tag.

  With this win, Ireland became the first team to successfully chase down a total of more than 300 on three occassions in the World Cup. Two more wins were achieved in the group stage – both nail-biting affairs – against UAE and Zimbabwe respectively. But heavy defeats to South Africa and India meant that Ireland lost out to the West Indies for a place in the quarterfinals by virtue of net run rate.

  Since the 2015 World Cup, Ireland along with Afghanistan have been permanently admitted into the ICC ODI Championship table. However, they have played only five ODIs in this period. This state of affairs is set to change slightly, as a clutch of matches have been scheduled over the next one year. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will all be touring Ireland this summer. Ireland will later travel to South Africa to play the hosts as well as Australia.

  Hopefully, this is a sign for an even more regular diet of fixtures against higher ranked teams. With Ireland all but certain to play its first Test match sooner than later, the next few years promise to be an exciting period for Irish cricket as it prepares to take yet another giant step foward.