They said the World Cup would be a monumental bore. It was meant to be a six-week snooze-fest, in which the strong duffed up the weak and every tedious or predictable match eventually led to the knockout stages, when spectators might or might not wake up if they still cared.
In two hours of gloriously unfettered hitting last night, an unsung Irish batsman called Kevin O'Brien changed a perception that can now be seen to be preposterous. He scored the fastest hundred in World Cup history, rescued his team from the depths of despair and took them to a three-wicket victory, their first against England, which also happened to include the highest successful pursuit the tournament has known.
O'Brien's century took a mere 50 balls and included 13 fours and six sixes, most of which were monstrous and one of which was the longest of the competition so far. He decelerated after that, adding only another 13 runs in 13 more balls until he was cruelly run out with 12 still needed.
But the job was done. Soon enough, Ireland had defeated England by three wickets with five balls to spare, having scored 329 for 7. O'Brien had risked his hand and had been rewarded handsomely. Perhaps he had no alternative, considering that Ireland were 106 for 4 when he entered the arena and pretty shortly 111 for 5.
Perhaps, no definitely, England bowled and fielded indifferently for too much of the innings and were made to pay for their shortcomings. Perhaps it was complacency, perhaps they are bereft of the qualities necessary after a long winter campaign and have insufficient left to give. There was not enough discipline to their bowling lines and they dropped five catches.
But it was O'Brien's night as it had never been before and will never be again. His striking was ferocious, clean and uninhibited. He drove venomously and anything with width – and there was too much – was dispatched unceremoniously.
He needed a foil and he found the perfect one in Alex Cusack, who gave O'Brien the strike sensibly and at the earliest opportunity when he could. The pair put on 162 in 103 balls for the sixth wicket and so confident were they that they were rarely threatened.
O'Brien gave one significant chance when he was 91, a steepling drive high behind the bowler, Paul Collingwood. From mid-off Andrew Strauss ran to clutch the ball precariously between outstretched fingers as it plummeted down, but it was gone again as soon as he hit the ground.
Ireland were 246 then and another 83 runs at that point would have seemed a planet away. O'Brien merely regrouped, clumped another four and then reached his hundred with a biffed two through midwicket. Thereafter, Ireland cannily played the percentages, mostly nudging but always finding a boundary when it was needed. Cusack sacrificed himself after being sent back when minds were changed over a sharp single but John Mooney came in and seamlessly took over.
When O'Brien failed to make his ground going for a second there was a faint possibility that Ireland might panic with the line in sight. Not a bit of it. Trent Johnston creamed a full toss for four and Mooney finished it with another boundary off the first ball of the final over.
How different it had all seemed earlier as England accumulated runs at will after winning the toss. Both Strauss and Kevin Pietersen were out playing ill-judged, unconventional strokes – the latter after a step across the crease and reverse dab to the third ball faced from the off-spin of Paul Stirling – when well-judged convention would have done very nicely.
Still, the concerns of later in the day were as nothing as Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell compiled runs with ease. When he was 64 Trott equalled the record of Viv Richards and Kevin Pietersen in reaching 1,000 ODI runs in 21 innings. Imagine somebody being in a psychiatrist's chair and subjected to a word association test.
"Jonathan Trott," says the shrink. "Viv Richards," comes the reply. The doc tries again. "Jonathan Trott," he intones. "Kevin Pietersen," shoots back the chap in the chair. Sadly, the psychiatrist walks over to his desk and calls for the men in white coats (not umpires). Anyone who can think of Trott in the same breath as Richards or Pietersen has to be stark, staring bonkers. Except that the chap in the chair knew whereof he spoke.
Trott went along at a run a ball for his 92, Bell slightly less than that but they were both dismissed late in England's innings, which then crucially petered out. Only 71 runs were added in the last 10 overs, six wickets fell in the last seven. On such a flat pitch it was to prove costly.
Ireland had a dreadful start when they lost a wicket to the first ball of the innings, their captain, William Porterfield, dragging on a wide one from Jimmy Anderson. Admirably, they refused to be disconcerted by this loss and in what was to be crucial for the later part of the innings, rattled merrily along.
But Stirling top-edged one gleeful pull too many and Graeme Swann came on and tied up the middle of the innings with three quick wickets. It all looked too much for the Irishmen. Better luck next time, poor things.
O'Brien wasted no time in settling in. His first ball flew off the edge through the vacant slip area for four, his 12th and 14th for sixes heaved over midwicket, both against Swann, who had looked unplayable until then. Notice had been served.
Ireland took the batting powerplay at the start of the 32nd over when the score was 167 for 5. By the time it was done it had risen by 62 more as England, disturbed in their bowling comfort zones, lost any semblance of control. During it, O'Brien reached his 50 from 31 balls but there was more to come in less time. It was unforgettable.
* Kevin O’Brien struck the fastest World Cup century (and the sixth fastest in all one-day internationals)
50 balls: Kevin O’Brien (Ireland) v England, Bangalore, 2011
66 balls: Matthew Hayden (Australia) v South Africa, St Kitts, 2007
67 balls: John Davison (Canada) v West Indies, Centurion, 2003
72 balls: Kapil Dev (India) v Zimbabwe, Tunbridge Wells, 1983
72 balls: Adam Gilchrist (Australia) v Sri Lanka, Bridgetown, 2007
80 balls: Mahela Jayawardene (Sri Lanka) v Canada, Hambantota, 2011
Quickest one-day tons :
102 (100 from 37 balls) S Afridi (v SL) 96
147* (100-44) M Boucher (v Zim) 06
117 (100-45) B Lara (v Bang) Oct 99
102 (100-45) S Afridi (v Ind) 05
134 (100-48) S Jayasuriya (v Pak) 96
*113 (100 from 50) K O’Brien (v England, Bangalore) Mar 2011
M Chinnaswamy Stadium, World Cup Group B, one day: Ireland (2pts) beat England by three wickets
England won toss
*A J Strauss b Dockrell 34/1/2/37/60
K P Pietersen c N J O'Brien b Stirling 59/2/7/50/77
I J L Trott b Mooney 92/0/9/92/124
I R Bell c Stirling b Mooney 81/1/6/86/100
P D Collingwood c K J O'Brien b Mooney 16/1/0/11/20
†M J Prior b Johnston 6/0/1/5/6
T T Bresnan c Johnston b Mooney 4/0/0/8/22
M H Yardy b Johnston 3/0/0/6/6
G P Swann not out 9/0/1/5/6
Extras (b1 lb2 w20) 23
Total (for 8, 50 overs);327
Fall: 1-91, 2-111, 3-278, 4-288, 5-299, 6-312, 7-317, 8-327.
Did not bat: S C J Broad, J M Anderson.
Bowling: W B Rankin 7-0-51-0, D T Johnston 10-0-58-2, A R Cusack 4-0-39-0, G H Dockrell 10-0-68-1, J F Mooney 9-0-63-4, P R Stirling 10-0-45-1.
*W T S Porterfield b Anderson 0/0/0/1/0
P R Stirling c Pietersen b Bresnan 32/1/5/28/44
E C Joyce st Prior b Swann 32/0/3/61/90
†N J O'Brien b Swann 29/1/2/36/36
G C Wilson lbw b Swann 3/0/0/14/15
K J O'Brien run out 113/6/13/63/121
A R Cusack run out 47/1/3/58/78
J F Mooney not out 34/0/6/30/38
D T Johnston not out 7/0/1/4/5
Extras (b5 lb15 w12) 32
Total (for 7, 49.1 overs);329
Fall: 1-0, 2-62, 3-103, 4-106, 5-111, 6-273, 7-317.
Did not bat: G H Dockrell, W B Rankin.
Bowling: J M Anderson 8.1-1-50-1, S C J Broad 9-0-73-0, T T Bresnan 10-0-64-1, M H Yardy 7-0-49-0, G P Swann 10-0-47-3, P D Collingwood 5-0-26-0.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and B F Bowden (NZ).