,March,3-2011:Kevin O’Brien thought Ireland were down and out against England – before he started one of the most memorable innings in ICC Cricket World Cup history.
O’Brien (113) smashed England to every corner, and over most, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in a 50-ball century which turned tonight’s Group B match on its head. He hit 10 fours and six sixes on his way to three figures faster than any other batsman in the 36-year history of this tournament, dominating a stand of 162 with Alex Cusack as Ireland completed the ICC CWC’s highest-ever run chase.
Yet asked whether he thought Ireland had any chance when he came in at 106 for four – soon to be 111 for five – he said: “Honestly, no. “But we just took a chance. You cannot write yourself off in any one-day cricket.”
O’Brien, who will be 27 on Friday, made England’s first-choice attack look horribly exposed – albeit on a wonderful batting pitch which had seen Jonathan Trott (92) and Ian Bell (81) help their team post 327 for eight.
Watched by his father Ginger, a former Ireland captain, and mum Camilla – as well as brother Niall, one of the four batsmen out before him – O’Brien reflected with entirely justified pride on his achievement, and Ireland’s three-wicket win.
He has always been a natural big hitter, but did not usually get the same plaudits when he kept losing the ball as a child. “That’s a long way the best innings I’ve ever played,” he said. “It even eclipses playing in the back garden with Niall, where hitting it out of the garden was out.” That was not the case tonight, as the Irish contingent in a modest crowd lapped up every moment. “I think anyone is going to struggle to beat that innings. It doesn’t get any better,” Ireland’s hero added.
“I’ll take that – a ICC CWC 100 off 50 balls in front of a billion people under lights against England. “I score pretty quickly – and in the last three games I’ve backed my own ability. “If it’s there to be hit, I’ve tried to hit it as hard as I can.” O’Brien had a parting shot for England too, just in case they were thinking up any mitigation for conceding a 300-plus total for the second match in succession at this venue. “I don’t think England had any answers.
“They didn’t know what they were up to with their bowling plans.” O’Brien is sporting an unmissable pink and blond hairdo, having dyed his natural redhead two days ago when Ireland decided a team makeover was in order to support a cancer charity.
After his innings of a lifetime, he is tempted to keep the new look – even though he admits it is not to everyone’s taste. “My girlfriend doesn’t like it too much – she’s begging me to shave it off,” he said.
“But it’s a tremendous day, and we’re all very proud.” O’Brien’s captain Will Porter-field made a first-ball duck – hardly an auspicious start to the run chase – but unsurprisingly, he too was all smiles at the sensational outcome.
After Ireland’s first win over England in any format, he said: “I think it’s the biggest win Irish cricket has ever had.
“Beating England in any sport is a fantastic occasion, and I’m sure a lot of people back home have been given something to smile about. “It shows what we’ve been threatening to do for a while. “Doing it is a different story to thinking about it.
“We’ve had that belief for a couple of years – and we firmly believe we can beat anyone.” Cusack claimed Ireland were “on top of the world” after they pulled off the stunning win. “I’m pretty amazed, words can’t describe how I’m feeling, just on top of the world,” Cusack said on Sky Sports 1. Cusack paid tribute to the big-hitting O’Brien, who clobbered 13 fours and six sixes. “I was just trying to knock it around for Kev because he’s got the power. He’s got the big shots.”
Ireland captain William Porterfield, who was dismissed first ball in his side’s reply by James Anderson, hailed the victory as their greatest ever win.
“It’s got to be the greatest, pretty much the greatest days of our lives so far,” he said. “Credit to the lads, they kept believing. We’ll be looking to put in a performance like that every game.” There were contrasting emotions for England captain Andrew Strauss, who admitted his side’s fielding had to improve. “We thought we had done a reasonable job with the bat, we got Ireland five down and things looked comfortable,” he said.
“We weren’t reckoning on an outstanding innings from Kevin O’Brien. It was pretty brutal.” England have won just one of their opening three ICC CWC games, but Strauss insisted their tournament hopes were not dead. Strauss added: “Our ICC CWC dream is not over, but we’ve been hemorrhaging runs too quickly. We’ve got to go away, lick our wounds. “I’m at a loss to explain it.” Strauss also revealed Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann both picked up niggles, but said they should be fit for England’s next game against South Africa on Sunday.
England dropped five catches in all, reprieving O’Brien on 91 and Cusack on 32. Strauss admitted: “We could have taken our catches. “I dropped one, and we dropped three others as well. That cost us the game – there’s no doubt about it. “Our bowling could have been better. We got taken by surprise there – and we can’t afford to give away those kind of chances here. “They are very flat wickets and we were asking for trouble.” Strauss was aware of Ireland’s firepower down the order, but did not see such a sustained assault coming. He added: “I thought we were in a great position to win the game.
“We knew they had some dangerous hitters in the back-end of their order – but with the rate climbing as much as it was, it seemed if we could stay patient we would pick up wickets.” Asked how big a setback this will be for him personally as he tries to follow England’s Ashes success this winter with ICC CWC glory too, Strauss said: “I don’t tend to rank my lowest moments – it’s not something I have a habit of doing – but it’s been a bitterly disappointing day for us.”
England tied another memorable high-scoring match at this same venue with tournament co-hosts and favourites India three days ago – and Strauss is not about to give up on his team. “We were thinking we were getting some momentum after the India game. “We’re not out of the ICC CWC by any means – but we need to be better than we were on Wednesday.”