Six Ball Over: Niall O’Brien

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Originally published on DV Mace’s Smorgasbord of Sport, 28-Oct-2014.

Kingston, 17 March 2007. The day Ireland climbed into world view as a cricketing nation. On St Patrick’s Day, their low-scoring victory over a Pakistan team including Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-Ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik and Umar Gul, was one that thrust them into a whole new level for an associate nation – world beaters.

Ireland didn’t do it easily, however. They won by three wickets, and their top scorer was extras with 14.

Except for Niall O’Brien. The gritty, plucky keeper managed to make 72 off 107 balls, and led Ireland to a famous win. When O’Brien got out, he’d made 72 out of 93 runs made while he was at the crease. While it was O’Brien’s brother, Kevin, and Trent Johnston who took Ireland over the finishing line, Niall O’Brien was indisputably the man of the match.

Since then, he’s become one of the pillars of Irish cricket. And while the rain fell, washing out the Ireland v New Zealand XI match at Seddon Park, I was fortunate enough to ask him a few questions.

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1. You’ve been involved in many famous games for Ireland – including vs the West Indies in ’04, vs Pakistan in ’07, and vs England in ’11. Which game do you remember the most fondly?
Niall O’Brien: It’s a tough question, but I think probably England 2011 was the standout game for the kind of run chase it was, 320, and seeing Kev score such an amazing hundred was pretty cool. Mum and dad were in the stands in tears watching, so that was pretty memorable. They were all good wins, but that one probably stands out a little bit more.

2. Do you think the 2007 World Cup remains Ireland’s greatest moment?
NOB: I think it’s probably one of the biggest results we had, in that it set us on our pathway to where we are today. I don’t think without that victory by the boys on Paddy’s day we would have been able to make the progress we have done. I still think the victory over England, and many other victories along the way, have been pretty important, but I think without that victory over Pakistan we may have struggled to get funding and some recognition.

3. Will Ireland ever get Test status?
NOB: Yeah, I think so mate. 2019, that’s the goal. We start our First Class league in 2015 [Intercontinental Cup], we’ve got to win that, then we’ve got to beat the lowest ranked Test team in 2018. There’s a clear pathway, and hopefully all our lads will be hanging on in there for a Test cap, and come 2019 we’ll be mixing with the big boys.

4. Which format of the game do you enjoy most?
NOB: I prefer First Class cricket, the longer form of the game. I’m only a pipsqueak so I don’t really hit the ball for too many sixes, so T20’s a bit of a tricky one for little men like me. I enjoy First Class, I think the joy of getting a hundred in First Class cricket, against the new ball and bouncers and all that kind of thing, is pretty rewarding.

5. You were named Northant’s player of the year in 2008, and you’re now Leicester’s vice-captain, do you feel you’ve had more success in international or County cricket.
NOB: I think I’ve had some good success at both levels. For Ireland, I’m one of the leading runscorers for my country which is pleasing. But I’ve played 13 years now in County Cricket and plan to play for a lot longer, and I think that’s an achievement in itself. I think I’ve had some good success both at County and international level, and there’s plenty more to be had.

6. Finally, who’s the best player you’ve played alongside with for Ireland?
NOB: That’s a tricky one. I think Andre Botha was a good player; he was an all-rounder, batted number three and was a good bowler, pretty canny with the ball. He contributed, if he didn’t get runs with the bat he was taking wickets, and he was a good slip fielder. It’s too obvious to say my brother, so I’ll say Andre Botha!

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