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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ireland's Kevin O'Brien shows England why he is demolition man in Cricket World Cup 2011 victory

Kevin O’Brien, whose century for Ireland at the World Cup put paid to England on Wednesday, is the latest in a dynasty of outstanding Irish cricketers that started with his father Brendan - better known as Ginger - and continues through older brother Niall. 

All three of them feisty redheads, they took up the game at Railway Union – a leading club in the eastern suburbs of Dublin – where their belligerent approach to batting earned them the nickname “the demolition squad”.
Niall, who is 29, has been a fixture in county cricket for the past seven seasons. But 26-year-old Kevin has mostly stayed at home in Ireland, apart from a brief flirtation with Nottinghamshire, whom he represented in a few one-day games in the summer of 2009.
“You can see the progress in Irish cricket through the performances of guys like Kevin,” said Alan Lewis, the former Ireland captain.
“He is one of five full-time professionals based in Ireland, as is John Mooney, who played such a crucial innings at the death here.
“That professionalism marks them out from the previous generation of Ireland players. Take Jason Molins, another very talented Railway Union batsman, who used to leave work in London at 6pm on a Friday, rush to the airport, and find himself facing Wasim Akram in a one-day international in Dublin the following morning.

“I remember Jason telling me that he once went two years without an outside net. That can hardly be considered the best preparation.
"But now our best players have a chance to prepare properly. Mooney, for instance, was an electrician but is now a full-time cricketer.”
O’Brien’s stint at Nottinghamshire was not a huge success, at least in terms of runs. In 10 completed innings, he only reached double figures three times, with a best of 42.
As his county team-mate Mark Wagh put it, “He’s obviously improved quite a lot since then.” But Wayne Noon, Nottinghamshire’s assistant coach, said he had been impressed by O’Brien’s “cricket awareness”, especially his running between the wickets.
In fact, O’Brien gave a talk to the younger players about the niceties of running, including advice on exactly how far you can get away with backing up.
That is in keeping with Ireland’s focus on the “one-percenters” since they came under the wing of Adrian Birrell, the tough South African who coached them from 2002 to 2007.
Birrell demanded that Ireland should become the third-best fielding side in the world, behind the untouchables of South Africa and Australia, and their outcricket comfortably outclassed England’s yesterday.
“Kevin was a very strong package,” says Noon, because he could smack it out of the park, he bowled some useful overs, and he had a superb pair of hands anywhere in the field.
Apart from his obvious power, he also timed the ball really nicely. We would have given him another one-day contract last season, but he decided he was better off staying in Ireland, because they play so many more games now.
“In a way I’m not surprised that he’s done something exceptional, because he always had great potential. And this innings was no fluke: he paced it beautifully.
"If that innings had been played by one of the big names in this World Cup, a Tendulkar or a Gayle, everyone would be raving about it. Now Kevin might just have set himself up for a nice little deal in the Indian Premier League.”
In his time between county matches, O’Brien took a professional’s role at Plumtree in a rather different premier league. The Nottinghamshire Premier League, that is. Again, runs did not flow freely, but club officials speak warmly of him.
“Kevin was a terrific influence on Plumtree,” Ian Smith said. “He was very focused and his will to win really rubbed off on the other guys.
"A lot of the professionals you see at this level just take the money and run, but Kevin was always in contact with us on text on Facebook to see what was going on, even when he was away with Nottinghamshire or Ireland.
“In fact his bowling was probably better than his batting,” added Smith, “and he turned in some really tight spells. When we went to Papplewick, they had Phil DeFreitas and Stuart Law clubbing the ball around, but they weren’t taking any liberties against Kevin.”
If it is a long way from Papplewick and Railway Union to the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, the shift from club cricket to the World Cup must be bigger still. But on the evidence of this insouciant innings, no one has told Kevin O’Brien, England's demoltion man.