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O'Brien sure tons more to come after first century

 

By Ian Callender

Niall O'Brien admits his maiden one-day international century against New Zealand on Sunday has given him a new lease of life.

The 35-year-old Ireland wicket-keeper had not reached 50 in his last 21 innings for his country and was starting to question his future in the game but now he believes he can kick-on and help Ireland get back to winning ways, starting on Friday at Malahide against Bangladesh.

"I was getting a lot of 20s and 30s in the last number of months and for the last 18 months have been plagued with injuries and illness, and you start doubting whether you are good enough and deserve your place in the team," said O'Brien.

"I'm happy with the way I have been keeping wicket and I am still enjoying my cricket but, 100 per cent, I felt under pressure. As a batsman you have to score runs and I haven't been.

"So I owed the team runs and was delighted to get some for the boys and the coach. Hopefully it's given me a new lease of life and I can now kick on and give some more good performances."

It's 15 years since O'Brien made his debut - the longest run by a current international - and ironically it was an injury to Ed Joyce, the one player older than him in the squad, that allowed him to bat at No 3 for the first time in an ODI since 2010.

"It was nice to get in early, I don't like sitting around and I felt I have been batting well without getting the scores. I don't like people saying 'he is not getting runs' so it was time for action rather than words. I have been working hard and I'm delighted I have repaid the coach's faith in me," he added.

Although O'Brien has scored a record six first class hundreds for Ireland, he had been given a new nickname by his team-mates for missing out in white-ball cricket.

"They have been calling me Misbah (after the 42-year-old Pakistan captain who has played 162 ODIs without a century) so it was great to break that particular duck," said O'Brien who also, finally, had to "pay up".

"I am a great believer in boys buying a round of drinks when they get a career best so I had avoided that for around 55 games so I owed all the boys!" he said.

O'Brien did admit, though, that the personal joy of the century against New Zealand at Malahide was dulled by the pain of another defeat - Ireland's fifth in a row - in a match he believed they could and probably should have won.

"We are very disappointed, because we just needed to extend one big partnership and we would have won that game with a couple of overs to spare.

"Losing can become a habit, but all the time I was out there I felt we had the game in hand but credit to New Zealand and the way Mitchell Santner came back."

Santner is a left arm spinner - the nemesis of Ireland teams down the years - and his finishing burst of four wickets in 19 balls to reduce the Irish from 212-5 to 236-9 exposed the lower-order and settled the result.

"It's difficult for the tail because Santner is a good bowler," said O'Brien.

"We had a couple of unfortunate dismissals early on, Kevin (his younger brother) seemed to get a rough one, Andrew Balbirnie was playing well then edges one onto his helmet and gets caught and bowled and (George) Dockrell gets held by a great catch by the captain.

"But credit where it's due, Santner turned one past Simi Singh and held one back to me.

"Yes, we were in a great position on a beautiful day in Malahide but fluffed our lines.

"But we have two more games to look forward to and it's just great to be in another camp with lots of games, rather than coming and going (as so often in the past when Ireland had to make do with one-off internationals), so we will re-group, dust ourselves down and go again on Friday."

And O'Brien sees no reason why they can't build on the early bowling performance against Bangladesh last Friday and the top order batting on Sunday.

"There's plenty of positives to take, we've played some great cricket but just need to get across the line."

Belfast Telegraph

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