"Some bookmakers had Ireland at 400-1 at one stage. I wish I'd not kept my money in my pocket."
A bevy of emotions had gripped Ger O'Brien's mind after Ireland pulled off an improbable victory over England in the 2011 World Cup in Bangalore. Like Ger, one of the five O'Brien brothers to play cricket, many would have wished they hadn't kept their money in their pockets on 2 March, 2011 as Ireland pulled off a coup to chase down 328.
One of the protagonists of that win was Ger's brother Kevin O'Brien.
Kevin's first memories of a World Cup were visiting Castle Avenue, Dublin to watch the 1999 match between Bangladesh and West Indies with his friend. In his words, it was a "great experience." It is the first memory that strikes his mind while talking about World Cups.
More than a decade down the line, he was creating history out in the middle on that humid March night at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, smashing the fastest century in the history of the World Cup.
Chasing 328, Kevin strode out at the fall of the set Ed Joyce's wicket at 106/4 to join Gary Wilson in the middle. After a solid defence first up, Kevin went for a booming drive only to get an outside edge through the vacant slips region for a four. He saw Wilson depart two overs later which left Ireland reeling at 111/5 in the 25th over.
However, it didn't affect Kevin's mindset. And all through the day, nothing was going to, as he launched a calculated attack to go berserk and hit a 63-ball 113.
"I don’t know (What happened to me that day)! Kevin recalls to Firstpost. "I had worked hard for 12-18 months beforehand and was playing well, so I was confident in my game at that point. I chanced my arm and played some good shots, but also got a bit of luck too. Thankfully, the shots landed away from fielders and a few of them went over the ropes!"
Kevin, who was joined by Alex Cussack, specifically targeted the Batting Powerplay (from the 32nd to 36th over) to hammer 62 runs in five overs. While Cussack played the support role, Kevin went berserk, hitting six fours and three sixes in that phase including the biggest six of the tournament, off James Anderson.
It was his uncomplicated mindset and a simple approach, even as the pressure kept creeping, that was the difference that day.
"Nothing really (was going through my mind when Ireland were in trouble at 111/5)," O'Brien says.
"I said to Alex Cusack, let’s have some fun and if we get bowled out for 180, who cares. Let’s have a crack! And it came off!"
It was during that Batting Powerplay phase that the confidence crept in that Ireland could pull this off.
"When we needed about 100 to win I knew we would do it if I or John Mooney stayed to the end," Kevin recalls.
The assault continued post the Powerplay but not without bouts of anxiety as Andrew Strauss dropped Kevin on 91 and Yardy couldn't hold on to Cussack's catch when on 32. Kevin scored all around the ground with mid-wicket being the most productive region. He took on Anderson, Michael Yardy, Tim Bresnan, Paul Collingwood, Graeme Swann; no one was targeted in particular nor spared.
"The wicket was very good, so you could hit any bowler if they bowled a bad ball," Kevin explains.
As Kevin neared his century, coach Phil Simmons sent out a message to Kevin via all-rounder Andrew White.
"Tell Kevin, once he gets his hundred he's got to win it for us now."
Kevin's reply was simple. "Okay, I will do my best."
The first big moment of the day came off the final ball of the 41st over as Kevin tucked a full toss from Yardy to deep mid-wicket and scampered through for a couple to bring up his century off 50 balls. He leapt in the air, and sent out a roar. The entire Irish dressing room celebrated in sync.
Did Kevin know that he had created history?
"I didn’t, not until the next day maybe," he says.
However, just like any Alfred Hitchcock movie, there was a twist in the tale. Confusion ensued in the 43rd over and Cusack was run out as he sacrificed his wicket on 47.
John Mooney walked out to the middle with 55 requires off 51 balls and took the centrestage while Kevin played the anchor's role. The pair played smart cricket as Mooney hit a boundary every over to keep the scoring rate within grasps.
But then there was another twist. Kevin went for a non-existent second run off the first ball off the 49th over and was run out.
A gust of pure tension encapsulated the Chinnaswamy cauldron.
The new man in, Trent Johnston, however, calmed the nerves with a boundary off the first ball, off Stuart Broad. The next four balls yielded four runs before Mooney flicked one to mid-wicket fence off Anderson to spark off wild celebrations.
Ireland had pulled off highest ever run chase in the history of World Cup and that too against the old enemy.
"The 2011 win kept cricket going in Ireland and around the world,” Kevin says of the importance of the historic win. “As 2007 had made the world take notice, 2011 reaffirmed to world cricket and ICC that Ireland have an excellent team."
Kevin's two partnerships, 162 with Cussack and 44 with Mooney, were crucial but there was hardly any talk of cricket with his partners in the middle.
"(We were) Just talking about what to have for dinner later that night," he quips.
The most interesting thing Kevin says that happened during that match was he feared he might not be able to bat after injuring his knee while fielding.
That innings had a huge impact on his career.
"It allowed me to go and play in various T20 tournament around the world. Which allowed me to grow as a cricketer and experience different cultures and become a better cricketer," he explains.
Kevin has been a part of some of the most iconic moments in Ireland history. He was there when Ireland made their World Cup debut. He was there when Ireland beat Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. He was there when Ireland beat West Indies in the 2015 World Cup. He became the first player to hit a Test century for Ireland.
Ireland made their World Cup debut back in 2007 and it was a special moment in the history of Irish cricket when they stepped on to the Sabina Park, Kingston soil against Zimbabwe. There were nerves and excitement and it was a thrilling ride which ended in a tie.
And in the next game, the unthinkable happened. They beat Pakistan at the same venue.
Bundling Pakistan out for 132, they chased down the total thanks to Niall's steely 72.
"It’s what set Irish cricket up," Kevin explains of the importance of that win. "We bowled brilliantly to restrict Pakistan, and Niall played one of his best ever innings for Ireland. It was a great time to be part of Irish cricket.
"We were big news for a couple of weeks and also the cricket world took notice that we have a very good side. For about 7-8 years, we were the 8th or 9th best team in the world! Crazy to think about!"
The celebrations went on and on...
"We were over the moon. It was such a good feeling, almost unbelievable. There were great few days and nights celebration with friends and family."
The impressive part of that win was the belief that they could beat the bigger nations.
"We had a very good side led by a great coach," Kevin explains. "We knew that both Pakistan and West Indies were very good teams in their day but also knew that they had off days as well. So we were confident that we could play well and beat them."
Kevin was at the non-striker's end when Johnston hit that winning six, over long on off Azhar Mahmood, which will be etched in the Irish cricketing folklore. So what was the feeling when Johnston hit that shot?
The three wins in the three editions of the World Cup were all special for different reasons.
"2007 vs Pakistan was (special) because it was the start and (also special) for Niall's performance. 2011 vs England (was special) for my own personal performance and (the win) being against England and 2015 vs West Indies (was special) because ICC had questioned the role of smaller nations in WC and the next day we hammered West Indies!"
Ireland won't be a part of the 2019 World Cup having missed with the quadrennial tournament being just a 10-team event. It is disappointing Kevin says but "we have to move forward and look at qualifications for the next WC."
So, what is that one World Cup moment that will stay with Kevin forever? He answers it in the most Kevin O'Brien style. Crisp and uncomplicated.
"2nd March, 2011."
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