Belfast Telegraph

Cricket: O’Brien back to play a key role for Ireland

By Ian Callender

Niall O’Brien is back in the Ireland team for the RSA Challenge one-day international against Australia on Saturday week — but he will not be keeping wicket

The revelation was made by national coach Phil Simmons at a press conference at Stormont, the venue for Ireland’s first match of the summer, when the 13-man squad to face the world’s No 1 one-day side was announced.

Gary Wilson, the man in possession at the World Twenty20 qualifiers, when O’Brien was left at home because he opted to play in the Bangladesh Premier League, will be behind the stumps despite Simmons admitting Wilson is “10 times the outfielder that O’Brien is”.

The coach added: “The decision (to leave out O’Brien) was made for that tournament — that was well documented — and we move forward. Life goes on and he comes back in as a batsman.

“If you pick 14 players he would be in our best squad but Willo will continue to keep. He did well in Kenya and Dubai.”

The decision to put O’Brien in the field could be seen as a further punishment to Ireland’s No 1 keeper — I understand the decision to recall O’Brien was not unanimous by the selectors — but he has been playing as a specialist batsman for Northants.

Indeed, he has not been involved in the county championship and playing only in the CB 40 one-day games.

The only change from the squad which started the qualifying tournament in Dubai is Tim Murtagh for Boyd Rankin who, as revealed in the Belfast Telegraph on May 11 is about a month behind schedule and the earliest that Ireland can expect to see him again will be for the T20 internationals against Bangladesh in late July.

Murtagh, who was flown out as a replacement for Alex Cusack at the World T20 qualifiers, but did not play, could still be awaiting his debut at the end of this month because, although he is the obvious replacement for Rankin, room in the starting line-up has to be found for both Cusack and John Mooney, who also had to return home early from the UAE.

So, there will be only one place for Murtagh or Max Sorensen who will get a chance to bowl himself in or out of the team in this week’s ‘A’ international against Scotland, starting today, with Simmons in attendance.

A certain starter against Australia will be Paul Stirling, the man of the match in the Dubai final against Afghanistan, and he showed off his prodigious talent on Sunday with first century at Lords, 119 from 99 balls against Lancashire. Eoin Morgan hit 116 in the same match, the two Irishmen sharing a third wicket stand of 126 in 11 overs.

Kevin O’Brien was present at yesterday’s press conference but the chat with him was all about Somerset, not Australia.

The younger O’Brien brother flies to England today to join his new team-mates with a guaranteed four Twenty20 games before the ODI.

“The official offer only came in last Thursday. I signed the papers on Friday and I’m looking forward to progressing as a player in T20,” said Kevin.

“I got the buzz of it last year with Gloucestershire and although they came in with an offer, it was no-brainer to choose Somerset because of the cash package, but there are hard feelings with Gloucestershire.”

Ireland squad: W Porterfield (capt), A Cusack, G Dockrell, T Johnston, E Joyce, J Mooney, T Murtagh, K O'Brien, N O'Brien, M Sorensen, P Stirling, A White, G Wilson.

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