Ireland took the cricket world by storm with their giant-killing feats in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. Victories over Test nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and England made the plucky Irishmen household names in the cricketing fraternity. As the 2015 edition beckons, there are similar expectations from the leading Associate nation to make its presence felt in the tournament.
There has been at least one memorable individual batting performance in each of Ireland’s four victories in the World Cup so far, not to mention in the tie against Zimbabwe in 2007. These five innings – all played by different batsmen – have played an invaluable role in the rise of the game’s popularity in the Emerald Isle.
In this post, let us revisit these five batting displays which have been pivotal in establishing Ireland’s credentials on the world stage.
1) 113 by Kevin O’Brien vs England, Bangalore, 2nd March 2011
In what was arguably the most staggering run chase in the history of ODI cricket, Kevin O’Brien blazed his way into the record books with the fastest World Cup hundred of all time. And the fact that it came against a Test nation – the old enemy England, no less – probably makes it one of the most heroic international innings ever played in coloured clothing.
After electing to bat, England were given a solid platform from their openers Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen (59), who added 91. Jonathan Trott (92) and Ian Bell (81) piled on the runs in a 167-run alliance for the third wicket. A flurry of late wickets for John Mooney (4/63) pegged things back a bit, but England’s final score was still an imposing 327/8.
Ireland had the worst possible start in reply as captain William Porterfield was bowled by James Anderson off the very first ball. Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien guided the score to 103/2, but Graeme Swann grabbed three wickets in as many as overs to reduce Ireland to 111/5 in the 25th over. Even the most optimistic of Irish fans had probably lost hope. But then Kevin O’Brien – who had come in at 106/4 – decided to take things into his own hands.
With the reassuring presence of Alex Cusack at the other end, O’Brien proceeded to inflict a barrage of boundaries and sixes on the Englishmen, who had simply no answer to the hitting spree. He reached his fifty off 31 balls with a six off Anderson in the 33rd over, at which point 136 runs were still required. O’Brien’s second fifty made the first one look sedate in comparison. He lit up the Chinnaswamy Stadium with a scarcely believable effort that stunned and delighted the crowd in equal measure.
He let out a celebratory roar as he got to his 50-ball hundred with a double off Michael Yardy in the 41st over. The previous fastest World Cup hundred was made by Australia’s Matthew Hayden in 2007, off 66 balls. O’Brien’s sixth-wicket stand with Cusack fetched 162 runs, and it was enough to bury England’s chances. When he was finally run out, O’Brien had brought Ireland to within 12 runs of a famous victory, which was duly achieved by three wickets off the first ball of the final over. His score read a mind-boggling 113 from 63 balls, with 13 fours and sixes.
The sight of the pink hair-dyed O’Brien powering his side to the highest successful run-chase in the World Cup will be remembered for as long as cricket exists. Besides taking Irish cricket to another level altogether, his innings also gave a fitting riposte to the parochial ICC, who had initially planned to shut out the Associate nations from taking part in the 2015 World Cup.
2) 72 by Niall O’Brien vs Pakistan, Kingston, 17th March 2007
It was Kevin’s older brother and the team’s wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien who played the innings that led to Ireland’s first ODI win over a Test nation, against Pakistan on St. Patrick’s Day. On a green Sabina Park pitch, he displayed great maturity in shepherding a tricky chase and ensured that the brilliant work of the Irish bowlers was not wasted.
After being put in to bat, Pakistan were humbled for a paltry 132 in 45.4 overs. Extras with 29 turned out to be the highest score as Ireland’s amateur bowlers exploited the conditions to the fullest. Boyd Rankin picked up 3/32 while Andre Botha returned exceptional figures of 8-4-5-2. Right from the word go, they maintained a tight grip on the match as Pakistan slumped to 15/2 and then to 72/6. A rain delay meant that Ireland’s revised target was 128 from 47 overs.
Ireland were 15/2 when the left-handed O’Brien walked out to bat. He assumed charge immediately and deftly tackled Pakistan’s experienced bowling attack even as the remaining batsmen failed to stick around. Buoyed by the Blarney Army, Ireland’s enthusiastic legion of fans, he steadily went about cutting down the target. O’Brien reached his fifty from 72 balls and went on to make 72 from 107 balls with six fours and a six. He was stumped by Kamran Akmal off Shoaib Malik, and the score at this point became 113/7.
After a few nervous moments, captain Trent Johnston swung Azhar Mahmood for six to bring up Ireland’s three-wicket victory with 32 balls to spare. O’Brien’s innings was worth its weight in gold, as testified by the fact that the next highest score was 16. His effort knocked out Pakistan from the tournament and paved the way for Ireland’s entry into the Super Eight round.
3) 115* by Jeremy Bray – vs Zimbabwe, Kingston, 15th March 2007
Just two days before their historic win over Pakistan, Ireland played their first World Cup game, against Zimbabwe at the same venue. After Ireland were put in to bat, the gritty Sydney-born left-handed opener Jeremy Bray went on to play one of the most important innings in Irish history.
Bray lost his opening partner William Porterfield in the first over, but he himself never looked like getting out. A middle-order collapse saw Ireland nosedive fro 43/1 to 89/5, but Bray found a willing ally in Andrew White, with whom he added 56 for the sixth wicket. A boundary off Elton Chigumbura led him to his fifty from 64 balls, and his confidence grew by the over.
At the end of 45 overs, Ireland were still on the back-foot at 182/8, but Bray expertly put on 39 for the ninth wicket with Dave Langford-Smith. He reached his second ODI hundred from 129 balls with a boundary off Chris Mpofu in the 48th over. He batted for the entire 50 overs, scoring an unbeaten 115 from 137 balls with ten fours and two sixes. Ireland posted a competitive 221/9.
In reply, Zimbabwe lost wickets at regular intervals but they were well on course at 203/5, needing just 19 runs from 39 balls. However, Ireland kept up the pressure with some tight bowling and excellent fielding as Zimbabwe began to panic. The last over began with nine runs required and one wicket left. The scores were level before the final delivery, which resulted in Ed Rainsford being run out in a thrilling finish. The match was tied and Ireland owed a lot to Bray for helping them put up a decent total. Jeremy Bray scored Ireland’s first World Cup century – 115* – in a thriling tied game against Zimbabwe in 2007 (source – cricketireland.ie)
4) 101 by Paul Stirling – vs Netherlands, Kolkata, 18th March 2011
Ireland were already out of reckoning for a quarterfinal berth, but a lot of pride was at stake going into this match against fellow Associates Netherlands at the Eden Gardens. The Dutch were reduced to 53/3 after being put in, but Ryan ten Doeschate (106) and captain Peter Borren (84) turned the tide. Their efforts led Netherlands to a strong total of 306 in 50 overs.
The target of 307 however did not make a difference to the dashing Paul Stirling, who attacked the Dutch bowlers in typical fashion. Along with captain Porterfield (68), he shared a galloping 177-run opening partnership. Ireland still needed 128 to win when he was out for 101 from 72 balls (14 fours and two sixes), but the rate at which he scored enabled the middle order to comfortably achieve the target.
Earlier, Stirling had also been the pick of the bowlers with a tidy spell of 2/51 in ten overs. Ireland eventually reached 307/4 in 47.4 overs, ending the tournament with two wins (the other coming against England, mentioned above) from their six matches. Both of the wins were chases in excess of 300 – the only such instances in the entire tournament.
5) 85 by William Porterfield – vs Bangladesh, Bridgetown, 15th April 2007
Ireland were winless in the Super Eight round, and this match against Bangladesh presented a great opportunity to scalp another full member nation. As it happened, William Porterfield’s solid 85 ensured not only a convincing 74-run victory, but also a place in the ICC ODI rankings table for his team.
After electing to bat, Ireland started confidently through openers Porterfield and Bray, who put on 92. Porterfield was at the crease for more than 41 overs before being dismissed for 85 from 136 balls (three fours). Productive run-scoring in the slog overs led Ireland to a total of 243/7. Bangladesh slipped to 48/3 and could not really recover, as they folded for 169 in 41.2 overs.