Kevin O'Brien's heroics set up Namibia clash for Ireland
DUBAI // Kevin O'Brien, Ireland's headline act at last year's 50-over World Cup, took his country to the brink of a fifth global event in as many years with victory over the Netherlands yesterday.
The Irish might be beginning to believe it is their right to play on the top stage, but they still have to navigate a tricky fixture against Namibia this morning to secure their place at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September.
Namibia surprisingly beat Ireland in the opening game of this competition, but the Irish have won eight since, culminating in their seven-wicket success over the Netherlands.
Perhaps crucially, Ireland's six-hitters are coming to the boil just as the tournament reaches its business end.
O'Brien saw his side over the line yesterday when he hit three maximums in a 22-ball stay worth 30.
Put in context, batting on the same low wicket and hitting to the same long boundaries, Afghanistan, a side renowned for pyrotechnics, managed no sixes among them the previous day.
"I don't know where it comes from," O'Brien said of his six-hitting ability, which was never better exhibited than when he scored the fastest World Cup ton against England last year.
"We are playing on good wickets against faster bowlers, and when the ball is coming down at 85mph you know you don't have to smash the ball, you can time it.
"The bats are huge and the ball flies off. It has shown in the past four games we have been clearing the ropes quite easily, so hopefully that continues" against Namibia.
Before he went to the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, O'Brien was giving serious consideration to giving up his pursuit of a professional career in the game and looking for a proper job.
Then Ireland shocked Pakistan, and they have never looked back.
They once entered qualification tournaments with hope, but they now are saddled with the burden of expectation, which is not a bad thing, acccording to their vice captain.
"Within the players, the expectations in Irish cricket have risen hugely in the last six years," said O'Brien, who has a various pro contracts now, including with Ireland, Gloucestershire, and to play T20 cricket in Sri Lanka.
"The fans expect us to be in all the World Cups that are on. It is a good expectation to play under as it drives you on to want to continually improve as a cricketer and improve Irish cricket as a whole.
"We have been to four World Cups now, and we want to make it No 5.
"It is going to be a big game."
If Ireland defeat, they will be playing their 11th game in 12 days since the start of the tournament in tonight's final against the Afghans.
The taxing workload has already taken its toll, with Tim Murtagh, the Middlesex seam-bowler, becoming the latest addition to the Ireland squad when he replaced the injured Alex Cusack.
"It might work to our advantage, as we have had two wins in two days and have some momentum with us," said William Porterfield, the Ireland captain.
"It makes some demands on your body but if you keep winning it can work to your advantage as well."
Defeat meant the Netherlands, who used to appear regularly at World Cups, missed out on their chance to reach the showpiece in Sri Lanka.
"I'm sure [Ireland] will progress further in this tournament and on this evidence they probably deserve to," said Peter Borren, the Netherlands captain. "We haven't shown everything we can. It is very disappointing as we were aiming for that final."
Published: March 23, 2012 04:00 AM