"The team with the most match-winners will win the tournament" : Niall O'Brien

by Shayan Siddiqui (30th March, 2014)

PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on the format of this World T20, particularly for the associate nations. Have they been given more of an opportunity to showcase their skills in this tournament?

Niall O'Brien: I think it was slightly disappointing that we had to play in a qualifying tournament before the tournament actually started. We played a four week tournament in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah with all the other associate teams and came through that as comfortable winners. So why not have Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in that tournament and then let the two teams go into the World T20 from there?

It seems a bit strange to go through a whole month of cricket and then go through another few weeks of preparation in Bangladesh. So it was a bit surprising and disappointing but at the end of the day we didnít perform well enough over the three matches in Sylhet so we didnít go through.

PakPassion.net: Focusing on those games, what are your thoughts on that defeat to the Netherlands?

Niall O'Brien: I wonít lie to you, it took us all by surprise as I donít think the Netherlands had beaten us in 18 or 19 attempts prior to that. We knew it was going to be a tight game as thereís not too many easy games at our level but once we had 189 on the board, I thought we had enough runs to defend given the way the bowlers had bowled in the previous games. It just shows you that when youíve got nothing to lose like the Dutch did and you just give everything and go for it 100%, funny things can happen. It has happened to us before Ė weíve been on the giving end of it before with Kevin OíBrien in Bangalore against England, and unfortunately we were on the receiving end of it in Sylhet. Itís just one of those disappointing things, life will go on but weíll just take a little bit of time to come to terms with it.

PakPassion.net: Is this a setback for Ireland in their goal to attain Test status?

Niall O'Brien: I think the tournament will certainly be deemed a failure from our point of view, in terms of our failure to qualify for the Super 10s. One of our aims was to win the actual tournament but we definitely would have been looking to get to the next stage and take a couple of wins with us to target a few of the other teams. Iíd have to say, looking back, not getting past the first round would be deemed a failure of sorts and I suppose that in itself is a bit of a setback. However, funny things happen in cricket and youíve just got to pick yourselves up and get back on the horse.

PakPassion.net: William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, has stated that he wasnít aware that the Dutch needed to reach the target in 86 balls to qualify for the next round. Did that surprise you?

Niall O'Brien: Iím not going to lay the blame on anyone but it does surprise me that the lads taking the field werenít aware of the scenario. Saying that, even if we lost in 14.3 overs we were still out but it would have given the captain a bit more of an idea of the Dutch tactics. Some blame has to be taken I suppose, and everyone has their opinion as to where that blame lies.

PakPassion.net: Were there any players from the Associate teams that caught your eye during the opening round of the tournament?

Niall O'Brien: Tom Cooper of the Netherlands played consistently well and we do know a lot about him. Heís a very good cricketer from Australia and had a very fine season for South Australia. Stephan Myburghís knock against us was obviously fantastic and Paul Stirling also played a fine innings against Zimbabwe. Kevin OíBrien was very good with the ball and also started hitting his straps with the bat, so itís a shame for some of the lads that they didnít get to play three or four more matches against the bigger sides and show what they can do.

Itís all well and good getting runs or wickets against the likes of UAE and the Netherlands, but we really wanted to test ourselves against the Sri Lankans and New Zealand and those kind of sides. Unfortunately that didnít happen.

PakPassion.net: Moving on to the top teams, have any in particular impressed you so far?

Niall O'Brien: I think Sri Lanka will be there or thereabouts as they have a very good team and seem to have most angles covered with pace, with the bat and variety in the spin department. I think West Indies will also be up there as they have a lot of skill with Narine and Santokie who is a different kind of bowler, and they tend to do well in the subcontinent. Theyíve also got some good batsmen so I donít think youíll look too far from the finalists last time but having said that, South Africa seem to be hitting their straps also. Dale Steyn won them a game against New Zealand the other day when they had no right to win it. Ross Taylor played a fantastic innings but they fell short so I think thereís a whole host of teams that could win it and thereís a lot of teams putting their hands up at the moment. Itís still early days but things are taking shape nicely.

PakPassion.net: Has the influence of the spinners so far in this tournament surprised you, or was it expected given the conditions in Bangladesh?

Niall O'Brien: From my experience in Bangladesh, spin does play a huge part. Saying that, the scores have been bigger than I expected as normally scores of 160+ arenít as common in T20Is in Bangladesh but they seem to have been a bit more common in this tournament so far. I think as the tournament goes on, the scores will gradually get a little bit lower but the wickets have been pretty good so the spinners are doing a good job to have the kind of impact theyíre having. I think nine of the top ten T20I bowlers in the world are spinners so you might say itís a spinnerís game!

PakPassion.net: Do you think the boundaries have been brought in a bit too much for this tournament?

Niall O'Brien: Yes I think the boundaries are a bit small. The stadium in Sylhet is lovely and the wicket is fantastic but the boundaries were very very small. There seems to be a bit of a trend now in T20Is to have really small boundaries and I know the fans want to see sixes and big scores, but the bowlers have got to be given a bit of leeway and it doesnít really help them when chips and mis-hits go ten yards over the rope! Saying that, I suppose the people Ďin the knowí know what they want and I guess the fans want to see sixes.

PakPassion.net: India defeated Pakistan in a high profile game at the start of the Super 10s. What went wrong for Pakistan that day?

Niall O'Brien: I know itís a bit of an obvious statement but think whoever plays best on the day wins. Pakistan are such an up and down team, they have such ability one day but the next they just donít seem to turn up. India are probably a more consistent team, but Pakistan had the ability and skill to go out and win that match but for whatever reason they didnít manage it on the day. All teams will have their plans against all the different oppositions and itís about execution on the day.

PakPassion.net: What has been your favourite game of the tournament so far?

Niall O'Brien: I enjoyed the South Africa-New Zealand game, I thought that was a good match and itís definitely been my favourite so far.

PakPassion.net: The four winners of the World T20 to date have all been different. Is that reflective of the unpredictable nature of the format?

Niall O'Brien: That is an interesting stat and I suppose the game is just evolving and players are getting more and more experience through tournaments like the IPL and the CPL etc. Obviously cricket is a team game but generally, itís one or two players that win a team a match or a tournament. Iím sure the England players will say that they wouldnít have won the 2010 tournament without Kevin Pietersen. So if one player fires over a two week period as Marlon Samuels did in Sri Lanka in 2012 then youíve got a good chance of winning the tournament. You just need one or two players to have an absolute blinder as Pakistan did in 2009 with Shahid Afridi coming to the party nicely towards the end. Itís all about match-winners and the team with the most match-winners will win the tournament.

PakPassion.net: A number of the Irish bowlers have been sent to Australia to work on their game, is this something more associate nations should look to encourage?

Niall O'Brien: It came about through Craig McDermott who was our bowling coach in Sri Lanka at the World Cup. Heís obviously an active coach in Australia so Cricket Ireland sent three or four young lads to Brisbane to play club cricket and work with Craig a couple of days a week. Thereís one eye on the future there and potentially at World Cup squads for next year but, itís more a chance to get lads outdoors in the winter rather than bowling indoors.

Itís a way to get them out in the sunshine and playing cricket in a different environment and in different formats of the game. Talking from experience, itís also good to get young lads out of their home environment and get them fending for themselves a bit in another part of the world. It makes you grow up and learn about life a lot quicker than you would do sitting at home being spoon-fed ideas.

PakPassion.net: Does Ireland see a difference between ODIs and T20Is? Is there more of an opportunity in the shortest format to cause upsets?

Niall O'Brien: People would say that the shorter the format, the less the gap between the sides, but judging by our results over the last six or seven years that probably wouldnít show. Weíve probably won as many ODIs as T20Is against bigger nations so I donít really see that myself.

I think weíre a good enough team to win 50 over matches against the bigger sides as well as T20Is. Itís just a case of finishing off matches and weíve been in a position in both ODIs and T20Is over the last few years to beat teams, but unfortunately weíve just found ways of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

PakPassion.net: Finally, if you had to name one team that will go on to win the 2014 World T20, who would it be?

Niall O'Brien: Iím going to be very politically correct and say Pakistan!

PakPassion.net: Niall, thank you for your time.

Niall O'Brien: My pleasure