|World Cricket League Division 1: Nairobi, January-February 2007|
Superb knock by O'Brien
Ian Callender, Newsletter
There are some days when superlatives are inadequate to describe an innings. Yesterday, in the heat of the Ruaraka Sports Ground, Kevin O’Brien played such an innings.
In lasted 35 overs and from 125 balls the 22 year old batsman scored 142 runs, comfortably the highest score by an Ireland batsman in a one-day international. All those who saw it will never forget it. Unbelievably, though, the memory will be overshadowed by a Kenya triumph which was a hammer blow to an Ireland team on the verge of their greatest ever one-day result.
With the help of a record-breaking limited overs partnership of 227, between Kevin O’Brien and William Porterfield. who became only the fourth Ireland batsman to score back-to-back centuries, Ireland compiled their highest total of the World League.
When Kenya’s penultimate wicket fell, the total was 231, still 54 runs short of victory. As Thomas Odoyo, destined to be the hosts’ hero said afterwards, “ït was a lost cause”. Except that it wasn’t. With No 11 Hiren Varaiya happy to nudge the singles and give the strike back to the big-hitting Odoyo, Kenya’s No 9 made serious inroads on the total as, for the second time in three days, Ireland ran out of bowling options.
Andre Botha was the safety valve at one end and having put Ireland in such a strong position with four wickets for 25, he conceded just six runs from his eighth over and 10 - all ones and twos - in his ninth. From the pavilion end, captain Trent Johnston surrendered six runs in the 45th over but that was his 10th and last.
He replaced himself with Kevin O’Brien, his preferred “death bowler” whose last over against Scotland on Tuesday went for 18, when Ireland lost off the last ball.
This time Ireland’s batting star of the day went for just 10 runs with his comeback over and going into the last two Kenya still needed 19 to win, with the No 11 on strike. Johnston then took the decision which he may regret for the rest of his career. He decided not to put young O’Brien through another ‘last over’ experience and gave the ball to his opening partner Dave Langford-Smith whose attempt at a comeback, some 26 overs earlier, has cost 10 runs including a six.
Varaiya got his single off the second ball but then it all went wrong for the big, gentle Aussie. His first ball to Odoyo cleared the boundary at long-on and the next ball went the same way. The target was down to less than a run-a-ball. D L-S held his head in his hands. He knew something was wrong and, much like O’Brien on Tuesday could do nothing about it. The last two balls of the over were both pulled for four and Kenya had won with an embarrassing six balls to spare.
Langford-Smith was inconsolable and left the ground in tears. He did not make it out for the presentation where National Coach Adrian Birrell was forced to admit the inadequacies of the Ireland attack at the end of an innings. “Our bowling at the death has been a problem and it has now cost us two vital matches. You have to back the captain, he’s out there. He had to put himself in Kevin’s shoes and he had baggage at the end of the Scottish game, so he turned to someone else. But I’m proud of the guys. They have played good cricket until the last over of two games. We shouldn’t forget all the good moments before,” said Birrell.
Apart from Botha, who took two wickets in each of his two spells, the other bowler who could hold his head high was Kyle McCallan who produced another masterclass in spin bowling, conceding just two boundaries in his 10 overs which produced his best one-day figures for eight years. For five overs, Andrew White bowled in perfect harmony with his slow bowling partner but when his next two went for nine and 13 respectively, Johnston brought himself back - too early as it turned out. Although O’Brien’s innings took the breath away with its clean-hitting, and powerful drives and pulls all round the wicket, no praise is too high for Porterfield, who is six months younger than Kevin.
For the second time in as many games he batted through the innings, and while his 104 yesterday, from 129 balls, included only five boundaries he was the perfect foil for O’Brien and long before the end was unselfishly giving him the strike. At one stage between the 30th and 38th overs he scored from 15 consecutive deliveries, at about the time O’Brien was going into overdrive. Kevin’s first 50, which he brought up with the first of his six sixes, took 85 balls, his second 50, celebrated with another maximum, came up in just 22 balls and his last 42 runs included six of his 11 fours.
It was a case of who needs Jeremy Bray - who failed a morning fitness test on his injured groin - and indeed Eoin Morgan, dropped on five at slip and caught at point for 11. When Niall O’Brien was run out for nine, it looked a wasted wicket. His brother thought differently. But until Ireland find a bowler to share the end of innings duties with Botha, no total will be safe enough for a side who, for the moment, are the ‘nearly team’ in one-day international cricket. *In contrast to Ireland, Scotland won their third consecutive game in the last over. The Netherlands needed only five to win, facing Paul Hoffmann, but lost their last three wickets for two runs. The victory effectively ends Ireland’s hopes of reaching the World League final.Their only chance is to win the last two games convincingly and hope either unbeaten Kenya or