Kevin O’Brien onslaught stuns England

The Chinnaswamy stadium at Bangalore produced another high scoring thriller on Wednesday as Ireland, powered by a brilliant counter attacking innings from its no. 6 batsman Kevin O’Brien, stunned England by chasing the 328 run target by 3 wickets and with 5 balls to spare. England’s bowling has been poor right through the tournament and were thoroughly exposed by O’Brien whose innings was spectacular, to say the least.

Ireland’s chase of a mammoth 328 was derailed at the very start when their skipper William Porterfield played on to his stumps. Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce attacked the English bowling as they were not prepared to succumb without a fight. Both the batsmen played some delightful shots – the notable ones being Stirling’s pull shot against Stuart Broad that fetched six runs and Joyce’s cover drive that beat Andrew Strauss’s dive and raced to the boundary ropes. Stirling, however, was dismissed just before the first Powerplay ended. He ended up skying a ball that went high to Kevin Pietersen at square and he made no mistake.

Niall O’Brien and Joyce struggled when Graeme Swann came on to bowl but O’Brien broke the shackles with a drive over long off where James Anderson couldn’t hold on to the catch and parried it over the boundary for six runs. Two more fours in the next over signalled Ireland were slowly coming back into the contest. But Swann beat O’Brien’s attempt to slog sweep him and the ball dislodged the stumps. It was a very crucial wicket for England. Swann picked two more wickets in his next two overs – he had Ed Joyce stumped by Matt Prior off a ball that flighted and turned and then had Gary Wilson plumb in front of the stumps as he attempted a sweep. Ireland were 111/5 at this stage and in real trouble.

Kevin O’Brien had other ideas. He found an able ally in Alex Cusack and was the dominant partner in a brilliant partnership that revealed every chink in the England armour. He made his intentions clear by hitting the impressive Swann for two sixes in one over. The partnership grew with every over and the pressure was eased with every boundary scored.

Ireland took the batting Powerplay in the 32nd over which proved the smartest move the whole night. The first over yielded 16 runs as O’Brien found two successive fours behind square on the leg side. The next over fetched a six for O’ Brien as he reached his fifty off only 30 balls. A four and a six followed in the next over as Ireland accelerated and the fourth Powerplay over went for 17 runs as O’Brien swung at everything. A four off the last over ensured 62 runs came off 5 overs and Ireland were sensing they had a chance in the game.

O’Brien did not change gears after the Powerplay overs. His attacking ensured the required rate climbed down and England began to wilt now. A dropped catch off O’Brien was to prove costly for England. O’Brien reached his hundred in the 41st over – the fastest hundred in the history of the World Cup. The Irish fans were now celebrating their hero. Though he lost Cusack to a run-out in the next over, he found another reliable partner in John Mooney.

The English bowlers were now careful to not give the strike to O’Brien. Mooney initially had difficulty in scoring the runs as a few dot balls ensued. But two edges for four made sure the required rate stayed at reasonable levels. O’Brien took the singles and Mooney found the boundaries as the equation was brought down to 12 off 12 balls when O’Brien was run-out going for a second run.

Trent Johnston hit a Broad full toss for four and the runs required for a win was only three at the start of the final over. Mooney calmly hit the first ball from Anderson to the midwicket boundary for four as Ireland celebrated their finest hour in international cricket. Nobody gave them a chance after they were 111/5 but the Irish fighting spirit ensured history was made.

In the afternoon, Andrew Strauss had won the toss and decided to bat. Strauss and Pietersen laid a solid foundation of 91 runs in which Pietersen scored the bulk of the runs. Strauss was dismissed by the teenage left arm spinner George Dockrell as he attempted to play a shot down the leg side from well outside his off stump but missed and the ball crashed into the stumps. Pietersen soon threw his wicket away as his reverse sweep only found a top edge that the wicket keeper Niall O’Brien pouched comfortably.

Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott then forged a partnership which relied mostly on the singles and twos with the odd boundary thrown in between. They accelerated quickly and took the batting Powerplay in the 39th over. 45 runs resulted but in the last ball of the 43rd over, Bell couldn’t keep a leg side full toss down and saw Stirling take a fine low catch. Soon Trott was also gone as he attempted a shot straight down the ground, failed to move his feet and saw the stumps rearranged. From 294/4 in the 45th over, England could only muster 327/7 in their 50 overs as Ireland tightened the screws at the end. They fell at least 20 runs short of what would have been a match winning target.

Had Strauss not finished Swann’s spell very early in the Ireland innings, his team would have had more chances of winning. His pace bowlers were poor as they couldn’t cope with the pressure of O’Brien’s attack. The fielding was abysmal and England have a lot of work to do before they take on South Africa this weekend. Twice in the past England have conceded defeat from the jaws of victory – first against India in the 2002 NatWest trophy final when India were 146/5 but chased 326 to win and then against West Indies in the Champions Trophy final in 2004 when Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw chased down 218 after being 147/8 at one stage. It was evident England haven’t learned from those mistakes.

Ireland will be very happy with their performance and would look to replicate this against India this weekend. The win will give them the confidence in their matches ahead. By far, they have looked the most assured of the Associates and should be given a chance to compete in the 2015 World Cup.

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