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Ireland’s Greatest, Grandest Day

2 March 2011

5:44 PM

2 March 2011

5:44 PM

On Friday Ireland threw away a chance of victory against Bangladesh, losing a game their bowlers had put them in a position to win. Chasing 205 on an oddly-paced pitch proved too much. And that’s often the way: anything much more than 4 an over is asking a lot. So when England reached 327 today it seemed pretty clear that even though they only scored 70 from their final ten overs the England total should have been more than enough to handle anything Ireland could throw at them.

Time to rethink that theory. Time too to rethink the pecking order of the greatest moments in Irish cricketing history. Victories over the West Indies and Pakistan were grand affairs but not half so sweet or astonishing as this magnificent performance against the English. Sure, it’s not Test cricket and sure the World Cup is something of a nonsense anyway but that matters not a jot tonight after an almost absurdly entertaining match.

Kevin O’Brien comes from a senior Irish cricketing family but none of his forbears have ever produced anything like his batting today. A century from just 50 balls transformed the match and obliterated a host of World Cup records. It was, if you like, Bothamesque as he gave it some humpty* rescuing an apparently lost cause – since 111 for 5 was not an obvious match-winning platform – and fashioning a most unlikely victory.

It helped that England bowled like drains and fielded with hands of stone but let’s not dwell on that and instead celebrate one of the great upsets in the history of the game. Ireland could do with some good news right now but few suspected it might or could really come from their cricketers.

But the players believed. I watched the Bangladesh game at the Russell Court Hotel in Dublin where the bars were opened early to accomodate a group of Irish cricketing fanatics. Among those present were a number of Irish WAGs who assured us that, whatever outsiders might think, the players believed they had a realistic shot at beating England. It turns out that was more than the usual psychological boosterism sportsmen need to thrive and was actually something they really, truly, madly believed. And good for them for doing so. There was an exemplary calmness to their batting in the final overs.

The growth and development of Irish cricket is one of the positive legacies of the Celtic Tiger and the economic boom. Suddenly there was money in Ireland and some of that was spent on cricket. Spent well, it seems, as well.

What a game! Sublime and ridiculous in equal measure and a reminder that occasionally the 50 over game still produces extraordinary drama. Bravo Ireland!

Perhaps England could ask for a rematch? In hurling.

*I’ve not seen an Irishman hit like that since Andrew Nixon carted White City for 167 or so at Mt Juliet two years ago. He’d been annoyed by something Peter Oborne had written about the Irish and decided to wreak vengeance upon our hapless bowling. Perhaps Kevin O’Brien has been using Oborne as a motivational tool too. Mind you, England’s fielding today was also close to White City levels as well. Also: on a personal level, it’s a great shame Alan Ruddock, a great enthusiast – even propagandist – for Irish cricket is no longer alive to enjoy this day. And to write about it.

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