Kevin O’Brien believes his latest hundred can be the springboard for a dramatic Ireland success just as his last one set up a stunning World Cup victory over England seven years ago.
O’Brien was the toast of Ireland again at Malahide on Monday as he marked their debut Test with the country’s maiden three-figure score at this level, an innings that gives them a chance of an unlikely win against Pakistan.
Ireland ended the fourth day of this one-off match on 319 for seven, a lead of 139 runs, after being made to follow-on.
They were in danger of an innings defeat when O’Brien came in at 95 for four on Monday, with Ireland still 85 runs adrift of Pakistan’s 310 for nine declared.
But O’Brien responded with a composed 118 not out and together with Stuart Thompson, who made a valuable 53, turned the tide in a century partnership for the seventh wicket.
It was a similar story in India seven years ago when O’Brien walked out to bat at 106 for four, with Ireland chasing an England total of 327.
But his 50-ball century, still the quickest in a World Cup match, powered Ireland to a superb win.
Monday’s innings was O’Brien’s first hundred for Ireland in 169 matches in all formats since his Bangalore bonanza and meant the Irish had a shot at becoming only the fourth side in the 141-year history of men’s Test cricket to win after following-on.
“It’s a very proud and emotional moment,” O’Brien told reporters after stumps.
“Hopefully now we’ve put ourselves in a good position to try and go ahead and win it. There’s no reason why we can’t (win).”
O’Brien, however, said the Bangalore hundred remained his best innings — at least for the time being.
– ‘Bangalore number one’
“I still think for me Bangalore is definitely number one, just for the sheer moment it was and against who it was, in the World Cup.
“If I can continue on tomorrow for another hour and a half, that 118 changes to 170-odd, this could top it.”
Pakistan recalled left-arm paceman Mohammad Amir — who had already dismissed Ireland captain William Porterfield, O’Brien’s brother Niall and their fellow top-order batsman Gary Wilson to reach 100 Test wickets earlier on Monday — when Kevin O’Brien was on 99.
But an edged two against Amir, not his best shot perhaps, saw the 34-year-old O’Brien to three figures in 186 balls with 10 fours.
“They sniffed an opportunity to try and get me out on 99 and fortunately another thick edge went past the fielder and I got two runs,” said O’Brien.
“It was just relief, really. Emotional — first Test and all that.
“My mum and dad don’t miss a game and my wife was there as well, and obviously Niall’s in the side. I’m very proud.”
– ‘Bite you back’ –
Pakistan’s Azhar Ali praised O’Brien for a “composed knock” of more than five hours, saying it had been a “very special innings”.
The tourists might have already won this match, however, had they not dropped both Ireland openers, Ed Joyce and skipper Porterfield, in single figures off Amir on Sunday.
Azhar, who missed Porterfield in the slips, said: “Obviously any time in Test cricket you drop catches, you give chances to the other team and it bites you back.
“But the way our bowlers bowled today, especially in the first session, I think they got the game back in our hands but, again, the innings of Kevin O’Brien was a very special one,” added Azhar, who has 14 Test hundreds to his credit.
Amir was repeatedly on and off the field Monday after a chronic knee injury flared up again on Sunday.
It was a concerning sight for Pakistan ahead of a back-to-back two-Test series against England that starts at Lord’s on May 24, but Azhar said: “We are hoping the injury he’s had is not much and we are pretty confident it’s not going to take too long (to heal).”