Ireland's Kevin O'Brien: The importance of cricket in my life has changed

The Irishman announced himself on the international stage with a blistering century against England at the 2011 World Cup. He tells Paul Radley how becoming a father has changed his mindset, and that a new lease of life at the top of the order could spell trouble for opposition bowlers at the T20 World Cup Qualifier

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 14, 2019: Ireland's Boyd Rankin and Kevin O'Brien (L) during the ICC Mens T20 World cup qualifier warm up game between the Ireland and The Netherlands. Monday the 14th of October 2019. International Cricket Stadium, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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It is eight-and-a-half years ago now, but memories of the century by Kevin O’Brien that defied England and destroyed records at the 2011 World Cup remain vivid.

The peroxide hair with an electric pink tint. The verbal jousting with an angry James Anderson. Six after six, going way back into the irregular stands of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.

Life is different now. His hair has long since returned to its natural colour. He has a resourceful, tactically-savvy Test century to his name, which was Ireland’s first ever.

He has become an elder statesman of a side that has been in transition ever since being elevated to cricket's top table.

O’Brien will be 36 by the time next summer starts. He has a young family, too. He says the arrival of Eleanor, 3, and 10-month-old Michael has changed his outlook.

So no longer the carefree days of youth, exactly. But having an altered perspective on the day job might make him an even more dangerous proposition for opposition bowlers than before.

“The importance of cricket in my life has changed,” O’Brien said, ahead of the T20 World Cup Qualifier in the UAE.

“It’s obviously still very important, but now I have a wife and two kids. Now, this is just a game of cricket.

“I'll just try and play as hard as I can, train as hard as I can, and then just go out and try and execute my skills.

“At the end of the day, if you win, lose or draw, or if I'm successful or not, once I get home, I don't really think about cricket. It’s kind of a good way to be.”

The change of mindset has been working well so far. Earlier this month he became the first Irishman to have scored centuries in each format, when he made 124 in a T20 international against Hong Kong in Oman.

“It was on my to-do list,” he said of his 20-over ton. “I’d got close a couple of times already, and I was a little annoyed to have missed it, having given it away from a good position.”

Ireland, who had struggled in T20 cricket for some while, are reaping the rewards of switching O’Brien to the top of the batting order.

He had been asking for the extra responsibility, and Gary Wilson, the captain, and Graham Ford, the coach, could see the logic.

“I actually think he is [getting better with age],” Wilson said of his long-time colleague.

“His performances have been really consistent over the past 18 months for Ireland, and not just in T20, but we have seen his T20 cricket flourish in that period.

“We needed to make a plan how to get the best out of Kev. Luckily, so far it has been working.”

Kevin O'Brien put England to the sword at the 2011 World Cup with a superb century. AFP

It means Ireland will have two of the most destructive batsmen in the competition – O’Brien and Paul Stirling – in harness in the power-play overs during the Qualifier. Pity the opposition new-ball bowlers.

“In T20, batting at the top of the orders is suiting my game,” O’Brien said.

“It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but only happened in the last seven or eight months.

“Thankfully they gave me the responsibility, and I think it was an important change in my T20 cricket with the Irish team.

“My scores in the middle order weren't as good as they should have been. I wasn't contributing as much to the team as I should have.

“Paul and I have really clicked at the top of the order and hopefully we can continue that.”

Ireland start their bid for a place at the T20 World Cup in Australia next year when they play Hong Kong at the Tolerance Oval in Abu Dhabi on Friday, starting at 2.10pm.