23 December 2014
Ireland “Quietly Confident”: Kevin O’Brien
When Kevin O’Brien strode to the crease on a Wednesday evening in Bangalore during the 2011 Cricket World Cup, no one suspected a World Cup record was about to be broken.
Kevin O'Brien hit the fastest World Cup century off just 50 balls during the 2011 tournament
O’Brien’s 50-ball century – the fastest in Cricket World Cup history – was the standout moment in a famous three-wicket victory for Ireland, which shocked their old sporting rivals from across the Irish Sea.
“It was kind of a blur at the time,” O’Brien said as he recalled his innings of 113 from 63 balls. “I was batting and kind of in the zone, I suppose, and wasn’t thinking too much.
“I was just looking to hit the ball as best I could and it’s something that come off on the day and got us over the line. “It was obviously a great day for me personally and for the team – it is always pleasing when an Irish team in whatever sport beats England.”
Fast-forward four years and the Ireland squad has been quietly going about its 2015 Cricket World Cup preparations for months now, spending time in Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates in a combination of training camps and practice matches.
“We’ve learned a lot about the conditions in Australia and New Zealand, so it’s been a really good preparation from that side of things,” O’Brien said. “We’ve all improved as individuals and as a team.”
O’Brien said he and his teammates were “quietly confident” about their chances come February and March.
Ireland has proved something of a giant killer in its first two World Cups, recording wins over Pakistan and England and making the Super 8 stage of the 2007 tournament.
“There’s a slightly different balance to the squad this time around. We’ve got a lot more young guys, especially bowlers, coming into the team,” O’Brien, who at 30 is more of Ireland’s most experienced players, said.
“We’re not going to look too far ahead in terms of the games or the pool. We just know we need to play good cricket and if we can do that, hopefully we can get a few victories and hopefully make it through to the knockout stages.”
Off-spinner Andrew McBrine and Middlesex batsman Andrew Balbirnie are among the youngsters O’Brien can see making their mark for Ireland.
“We’ve also got the likes of (Middlesex batsman) Paul Stirling, who is 24, and (Somerset bowler) George Dockrell is only 22.”
The son of Ireland cricketer Brendan, O’Brien has been playing for his country since its inaugural one-day international in 2006.
Coming from a cricketing background meant he was familiar with the bat and ball from a young age, but it was by no means his only childhood sporting activity.
“I had a good time growing up, watching as much cricket as I could and playing as much as I could with my brothers,” he said.
“We were a very sporting family, obviously dad playing for Ireland meant cricket was always in the blood, but we played everything: cricket, hockey, football, a bit of tennis. We played anything with a ball.”
O’Brien has played alongside older brother Niall in both of Ireland’s Cricket World Cup appearances to date, an experience he said made the honour of representing his country even greater.
“Playing international sport is a great achievement and it’s a very proud moment to pull on the jersey. I think it makes it even more special when you have your brother or sister playing the same game and pulling on the same jersey with you, so it’s a great experience for myself and Niall to be able to have.”
His name might have been etched into the record books on that fateful day in Bangalore and his famous innings watched and remembered by millions of cricket fans worldwide, but O’Brien remains grateful for the opportunities international cricket has given him.
“I’ve been fortunate to play with and against some of the best players in the world over the last couple of years,” he said.
“It’s been a great learning experience for me as a player and as a man away from cricket. I want to keep enjoying playing cricket and experiencing different cultures around the world.”
Meanwhile, Test cricket remains a dream for the Irishman. “It would be a very proud day for me if I’m around to step on the pitch in Ireland’s first Test match.”
Looking ahead to the 2015 Cricket World Cup, O’Brien said he was particularly looking forward to playing at Hamilton’s Seddon Park and Brisbane’s the Gabba, where Ireland will meet India and United Arab Emirates respectively.
“I think a lot of Irish people living in and around Australia (will get behind the team).
“Unfortunately we don’t play in Sydney, but hopefully people will make the trip down to Canberra or up to Brisbane and come and support us and watch us play.”
Could his heroics with the bat be replicated in 2015? O’Brien certainly hopes so.
“It was a great day and hopefully something that can happen again in the future. That would be fantastic.”
IRELAND WORLD CUP MATCHES:
Monday, February 16: West Indies v Ireland, Saxton Oval, Nelson.
Wednesday, February 25: Ireland v United Arab Emirates, the Gabba, Brisbane.
Tuesday, March 3: South Africa v Ireland, Manuka Oval, Canberra.
Saturday, March 7: Zimbabwe v Ireland, Bellerive Oval, Hobart.
Tuesday, March 10: India v Ireland, Seddon Park, Hamilton.
Sunday, March 15: Pakistan v Ireland, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide.
Around the wicket with: Andy Bichel
World Cup race wide open: Border and Waugh