On the scale of sporting shocks, Ireland broke the sound barrier last night. It was not so much that they defeated England in the World Cup – though that could reasonably be described as sensational – but the unthinkable fashion of their three-wicket victory.
With their top five batsmen all dismissed after they set off in pursuit of 328 runs to win, a 26-year-old Dubliner with pink and blond hair turned the match and perhaps the tournament on its head. Kevin O'Brien scored the fastest hundred in all World Cups, from 50 balls, and his innings, which included six sixes, enabled his side to reach their target, the largest successful chase in the competition.
By the time the winning runs came with five balls to spare – with O'Brien having been unfortunately run out – the noise from the stands all but matched that in the tied match between England and India last Sunday. Except that then there were 38,000 in the crowd and yesterday there were around 5,000, a fifth of them Irish, whose joy was boundless.
They included O'Brien's parents. His father, Brendan, wore a shirt sporting the name of Niall, his other son in the side who had been dispatched with the rest of the top order.
In his moment of glory, O'Brien still found time to be severely critical of England's bowling which wilted under the pressure he applied. It was as if the men who helped win the Ashes for England barely two months ago could no longer muster the necessary reserves of will, endurance and skill as O'Brien blazed away.
Admitting that he did not think victory was possible when he went into bat, he said he and Alex Cusack, with whom he shared a blistering sixth-wicket partnership of 162 from 103 balls, took a risk which came off in spectacular fashion.
"We were kind of backs against the wall, but we took a chance, myself and Cuzy, and we got the ball rolling. From there, I don't think England had any answers for us, to be honest. They didn't really know what they were up to with their bowling plans and we took advantage of that.
"I just knew that if we didn't panic, it was down to a run a ball and they weren't hitting their straps, hitting their yorkers. There was a four-ball, one an over so we knew if we just sat on it, kept out the good balls and hit the bad balls for four, we'd walk to victory."
O'Brien was out with 12 still needed for the improbable triumph that has thrown Group B wide open. England need to win two of their final three matches to qualify for the quarter-finals. Their epic tie against India now almost seems a wasted opportunity.
Andrew Strauss, the England captain, said: "It was an outstanding innings, the gall he showed to take the game to us in that situation. They took the powerplay and Kevin O'Brien struck the ball beautifully. He rescued them from a pretty perilous position to one where they were up with the rate and they just needed to keep their heads. It was a bit of a shock to us and I'm bitterly disappointed because we did a lot of things badly in the field again. We could have taken our catches. I dropped one and we dropped three others as well. That cost us the game, there's no doubt about it.
"Our bowling could have been better. We got taken by surprise and we can't afford to give away those kind of chances here. They are very flat wickets and we were asking for trouble."Reuse content