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T20 World Cup: Ireland’s World Cup hero Kevin O’Brien hoping his country throws a good challenge to England - News Home

T20 World Cup: Ireland’s World Cup hero Kevin O’Brien hoping his country throws a good challenge to England

Kevin O’Brien isn’t too sure whether he will be able to watch the live telecast of Wednesday’s T20 World Cup fixture between England and Ireland.

When the match begins at 3 pm local time at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it will be late night in Dublin, and Kevin isn’t sure whether he will be able to stay awake that late. His daughter has school the next morning, and Kevin is in no mood to break the routine. He, of course, plans to scroll down the scorecard and watch the match highlights once he wakes up.

It will be for the first time since 2011 that the two arch-rivals will feature in an ICC event together, and Kevin – the architect of Ireland’s iconic win in its last outing – hopes that this team throws up a challenge against a superior English side.

On a March evening at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, eleven summers ago, the Irishmen rode on Kevin’s 113 – the fastest World Cup century – to stun the Andrew Strauss-led England side. It was an incredible performance by the Irish cricketers as they chased down a target of 328, with Kevin playing the innings of his life.

“It’s a long time ago. A lot has happened since then. It was a great day for Irish cricket and me personally,” Kevin tells  Sportstar.

When Kevin walked out to bat that evening, Ireland had lost four wickets for 106 runs in 22.2 overs, and the side still needed another 222 runs with just 166 balls remaining. Even before he could settle in, Gary Wilson, too, walked back to the pavilion, and just when another defeat loomed largely, Kevin stood up. Of course, there were significant contributions by Alex Cusack and John Mooney down the order, but it was Kevin, who went on a rampage.

“It was about expressing myself and trying to win the game from a position where we were quite behind them. But I knew that we had nothing to lose, so I just went out there and decided to express myself,” Kevin says. 

“Little efforts paid off. England and Ireland’s rivalry has a lot of history to it. Any Irish sports team wants to beat England, and they are our biggest rivals in all sports. It’s a great game to be played in for sure. This time, too, the guys will be super excited to play England in Melbourne…”

While it was a magical evening in Bengaluru, things may not be that rosy in Melbourne. England comes into the game after a convincing win against Afghanistan, whereas Ireland lost to Sri Lanka in the first game of the Super-12 stage. “It’s a big game for both teams. It’s a World Cup game, and no matches are easy. It is important for Ireland to get off to a good start from the batting point of view. If Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie give themselves a bit of time and play to their strengths and do not lose too many wickets in PowerPlays, we can put up a good total. 

It starts with how the first six overs with the bat and how the top-order can build a platform for the middle-order to look at a big total,” Kevin says.

“I know T20 is a shortened format compared to ODIs, but I think you still have time to assess conditions and if need be soak in for a couple of overs. The biggest example of that is Virat Kohli’s innings against Pakistan. He took his time to score at just about 100 strike rate and had that confidence in his own ability and eventually hit Haris Rauf for a couple of sixes in the second-last over and was very confident to score those runs in the last over,” Kevin says. 

“So, even though it’s 20 overs, you still have 120 balls, and any batter can afford to pace their innings a little bit, and you don’t need to go gung-ho from the beginning… That’s one thing Ireland needs to look at. Obviously, everyone wants to play attacking, fearless cricket but sometimes you have to adapt to the conditions and play smart cricket…”

Looking back at the 2011 World Cup, Kevin admits that the team had self-belief and was confident of trying to make it to the quarterfinals. While the side did not make it to the knockouts, the win against England did make the world sit back and take note of Ireland’s performances.

Mooney, who claimed four wickets before coming up with an unbeaten 33 to guide the team home, believes that it was Ireland’s bowling at the death that played a key role. 

“Although 329 looked quite a high total, in Bengaluru, we knew that it was possible to chase it down. It was important that we bowled well at the end. But then, we batted poorly until Kevin came out. He hit Graeme Swann for two sixes, and that set the tone,” Mooney, who is currently holidaying with his family in Spain, says.

Chasing 320-plus runs was not easy, but Mooney says that they were inspired by the previous game between India and England in Bengaluru, which ended in a tie. Both teams scored 300-plus runs in that game, so when England once again scored a massive total, the team knew that it could be chased down. “I know that this Irish team was beaten by Sri Lanka, but this time the boys can believe that they can still win this game against England. That’s something we did last time also…”

Having received its Test status in 2018, many expected Ireland Cricket to be more proactive, but Mooney says that it hasn’t supported the way it should have. But then, he also knows that an upset win against England can once again bring the focus back on the Ireland team. 

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