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Kevin O'Brien is proud to smash Ireland's maiden Test ton

 

By Ian Callender in Malahide

It was just after 6.15pm that Kevin O'Brien pushed a ball from Mohammad Amir through the covers for runs that made him a national cricketing hero, for the second time in his career.

O'Brien, the man for the big occasion, had just scored Ireland's first Test century in their debut Test, seven years after he scored the fastest World Cup hundred to help Ireland beat England at the 2011 tournament.

Rather than the packed stands of Bangalore, there were only a few hundred spectators dotted around the five temporary stands in Malahide yesterday, the fourth day of the historic Test, but it was definitely an 'I was there' moment.

Proud parents Brendan, himself a former international, and Camilla were there and along with everyone else rose as one as O'Brien did a little jig of delight before he had completed the second run which took him to 101.

"To get there is a great honour and hopefully now we've put ourselves in a good position to try and go ahead and win it and there's no reason why we can't," he said at the close.

"We've just got to start off well tomorrow, try and get as many runs as we can and if we get a crack at them try and get them a couple down early and see where we go from there.

"I still think for me Bangalore is definitely number one just for the sheer moment it was, and against who it was, being in the World Cup. If I continue on tomorrow for another hour and a half and that 118 changes to 170-odd, this could top it."

He had come to the middle 40 minutes before lunch when Ireland still needed 85 runs just to make Pakistan bat again. Almost five hours later, when he reached three figures, O'Brien - at 34 the third oldest of the 105 players to score a century on Test debut - had faced 186 balls and hit 10 boundaries and Ireland were 116 runs in front.

By the close, O'Brien and Tyrone Kane, who had lasted just two balls in the first innings, had added another 23 runs and Ireland were dreaming, not just of becoming only the second team to draw their inaugural Test but actually being the first, since Australia in the first ever in 1877, of winning it.

But that can wait until today. Let's bask in and review Ireland's, and particularly O'Brien's, greatest day - I believe better than the World Cup win, because this was unknown territory for the Irish.

It had actually started in the worst possible manner with Ed Joyce run out in the third over of the day, a risky single which, because of the poor angle of the television camera, made it a difficult decision for third umpire Mark Hawthorne to adjudicate on. But Joyce had already given the game away by walking to the boundary, believing he hadn't made it and after more than two minutes he saw the dreaded 'Out' on the scoreboard.

It was even worse for Ireland four balls later when Andrew Balbirnie was leg before wicket to Mohammad Abbas for the second time in the match without scoring - the 44th player to get a pair on his Test match debut.

Niall O'Brien, after enduring a 10-ball duck in the first innings, was much more positive this time, which was fortunate because the scoreboard would have stopped otherwise as William Porterfield faced 25 balls without scoring.

It wasn't for want of trying but crazy running continued to be a feature of the first hour of the day with Niall fortunate that a throw missed the stumps as he dived in to avoid being the second player to get a pair.

The third-wicket partnership had only got to 25 when O'Brien was bowled, playing across the line to Amir, and when Porterfield followed for the addition of only one more run, a good diving catch to his left by the keeper, Ireland were 95-4. Enter Kevin O'Brien.

Much like his older brother, he was positive from the start, undoubtedly boosted by being the first-innings' top scorer, and after getting off the mark first ball with an easy single he hit two of his next eight balls to the boundary.

At first he was in partnership, once again, with Paul Stirling but by the 58th over Abbas was getting good reverse swing and it did it for the Middlesex professional, the sixth lbw victim of the match.

He was replaced by Gary Wilson, back in his regular position at No.7, buoyed by the good news that there was no fracture in his elbow. He could manage only one boundary, however, before he edged Amir to slip. Ireland were still 23 runs behind, now with just four wickets remaining.

But the rest of the day belonged to Ireland. Stuart Thompson has already scored two centuries this season for club and province and he was quickly into his stride, a four through mid-wicket the best of the bunch before the tea interval.

But after the break, Thompson upped the tempo and while O'Brien was content to nudge the singles, Thompson took 11 off an over from left-armer Rahat Ali and followed up with two more off Amir.

A sweet drive down the ground not only brought up the hundred stand but also the Eglinton captain's excellent 50, from 103 balls, just three more than O'Brien took for his first half-century.

By this stage, O'Brien had moved onto 79 and thoughts of that debut hundred were not just in his mind but everyone in the ground. He did lose Thompson, bowled between bat and pad by a huge leg spinner from Shadab Khan, but Kane, three years after his previous Ireland game, was nerveless as he let O'Brien dominate the scoring and inch closer to the historic landmark.

Indeed, Kane has already faced 67 balls and scored from only five of them but his role in the undefeated eighth-wicket partnership of 48 has set Ireland up for what could be an even more memorable fifth and final day.

Scoreboard

Pakistan 1st Innings 310-9 dec (Faheem Ashraf 83, Asad Shafiq 62, Shadab Khan 55, Haris Sohail 31; T Murtagh 4-55, S Thompson 3-62)

Ireland 1st Innings 130 (K O'Brien 40, G Wilson 33 not out; Mohammad Abbas 4-44, Shadab Khan 3-31)

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