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O'Brien is preparing for his third World Cup.
O'Brien is preparing for his third World Cup.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Can O'Brien repeat his record-breaking century at this World Cup? He's just hoping to do something half as special

Ireland’s World Cup journey starts today as they fly to Sydney.
Jan 30th 2015, 10:15 PM 4,067 1

IN THE BUILD-UP to next month’s Cricket World Cup in Australia/New Zealand, the International Cricket Council have run an online poll to give fans from all over the world the opportunity to vote for, what they believe, is the tournament’s greatest ever moment.

A hand-picked selection of stand-out matches, catches, innings, wickets and performances from the previous ten editions of the World Cup have been revealed day-by-day over the past four months for the public to rank in order of substance and brilliance.

Almost predictably, the moment over one billion Indians had waited 28 long years for currently tops the list. With only a handful of days of voting left, it seems unlikely MS Dhoni’s captain’s cameo in the 2011 final, which delivered India their second World Cup, will be trumped.

Yet, not far behind, currently ranked second, is an entry that stands-out.

With a little over 30,000 votes, Kevin O’Brien’s dazzling, almost fictitious, innings against England in March 2011 is being justly recognised as one of cricket’s most indelible moments.

It was not only the fastest century in World Cup history or an innings that dragged Ireland from a state of oblivion to their most acclaimed heist, but a performance which duly announced Ireland, and O’Brien, as the genuine antagonists to the established cricketing order they’ve become.

Now, four years on, as Phil Simmons’ side depart for their third consecutive World Cup, a lot has changed for both the team and O’Brien.

Kevin O'Brien 17/9/2014 O'Brien has reaped the rewards since 2011 with contracts around the world Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The tournament, which gets under way on 14 February, marks the start of a seminal period in Ireland’s headlong cricketing development. The levels of expectancy have been heightened considerably and, as is often the case, once you’ve tasted the good stuff, the cheap alternative will no longer cut it.

“We know it’s a big year,” O’Brien told The42.ie. “But, we have to take it one step at a time and not try to achieve too much, too quickly. We are going over to Australia/New Zealand to play good cricket against the big boys and it’s another great opportunity for us as players to show what we’re capable of – it’s an exciting time for Irish cricket.”

Since Bangalore, Ireland have been knocking on the ICC’s door, putting their case forward for ascension, but, as a result, each and every performance is placed under a microscope as their credentials are closely scrutinised.

Their Pool B campaign begins in Nelson when they face a West Indies side engulfed in disarray and while it’s a perfect opportunity for Ireland to collect one of the three wins they’ll likely need to progress, O’Brien knows the West Indies remain one of the best limited-overs sides around.

“We have to take each game as it comes but the West Indies is the big one. If we can start the tournament well and start with a win then sets it up nicely for the campaign.”

“They haven’t picked their two best limited-overs player but they’re still a really good side and we won’t take them lightly or they won’t take us lightly. I think both sides realise it’s going to be a big game.”

O’Brien’s repute has spiralled since his mastery at the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium. He’s become Ireland’s first global trailblazer having earned contracts in England, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and New Zealand as well as scooping the ICC Associate Player of the Year award in 2013.

His worth to Ireland cannot be understated. The 30-year-old’s role in the middle-order, given his capacity to move through the gears seamlessly and adapt to the circumstances, will be crucial in a tournament widely expected to be one in which bat will dominate ball.

Kevin O'Brien makes a catch to take the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal 6/5/2014 The all-rounder plays an integral part with both bat and ball Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Of course, whether Ireland can stamp their authority on the world stage again will be determined by the form of those who have done it all before. But, O’Brien insists there is no weight on his, or anyone’s shoulders.

“I’m just going over to enjoy it and I’m not putting any pressure on myself to achieve certain things. I just want to play my best cricket whether that’s with bat or ball and just try and help the team win games.

“From a personal point of view, if I can do something half as special as I did last time then that’d be great and would give us a real chance.”

O’Brien is one of eights players in the 15-man squad that were involved four years ago. It underlines Ireland’s consistency and stability but the loss of fast-bowler Tim Murtagh to injury is a blow so close to the start of the tournament.

Murtagh’s absence is another strain on an already stretched bowling attack. The make-up of the lower order has caused much debate and although both Craig Young and Peter Chase are hugely inexperienced at this level, O’Brien is confident the squad has a perfect blend to it.

“We have a few younger guys in the team who have really come on leaps and bounds in the last few months. It’s a nice mix of youth and experience but we’ve got a lot of players with big tournament experience and if we can throw in a youngster, it will add something extra to the side.”

Ireland fly to Sydney today for a fortnight of final preparations with warm-up fixtures against Bangladesh and Scotland as well as facing local club opposition as Phil Simmons hopes his side will dust off the cobwebs before their meeting with West Indies at the Saxton Oval.

What Ireland would give for something, anything, half as special as the performance O’Brien produced four years ago over the next six weeks and another entry on that greatest moments list to boot.

- Originally published at 07.15

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