Simon Fry: World Cup blitz against England 'was the innings that changed my life'

County Focus
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The Independent Online

Three months ago, Kevin O'Brien played an innings that will never be forgotten. This broad, red-haired son of a cricketing Dublin family strode to the wicket against England with nothing to lose and, as it turned out, so much to gain. His century came up off just 50 balls – smashing the record for the fastest World Cup hundred – and by the time he was finished, on 113, England were all but beaten and one of the most famous one-day triumphs was in the bag.

Sitting in the pavilion at Bristol, where he now plays for Gloucestershire, O'Brien is still clearly shocked just by what has happened since that March day in Bangalore. "To a certain degree that innings has changed my life," he says. "A few days after, [Irish president] Mary McAleese rang the team manager and wanted to speak to me. I was speechless! It's not every day you talk to your president. She congratulated me and told me the victory had put smiles on people's faces."

The defeat of England was also savoured by the ordinary people of Ireland, O'Brien says. "After getting back to Ireland I was dropping my mum off at work," he says. "We were stopped at lights and the taxi driver in front got out and walked to my car to congratulate me. Even wearing a hoodie and cap he recognised me; my disguise didn't work!"

O'Brien did not repeat his effort in that World Cup, but his name had been made. The brother of Northamptonshire wicketkeeper and lower-order titan Niall, O'Brien's subsequent signing for Gloucestershire came about as a result of his friendship with Kiwi-turned-Irishman Hamish Marshall. O'Brien asked Marshall to have a word with Gloucestershire coach John Bracewell. "John phoned about 10 weeks ago, presuming I had signed to a county, but I hadn't," says O'Brien.

"Gloucestershire are a great club. You only have to look around to see how much history they have; players like Jack Russell and WG Grace are two huge names in the world of cricket. I remember watching their one-day victories when I lived in Dublin."

Gloucestershire's start to the Twenty20 season, though, could hardly have been worse – played seven, won just one – and O'Brien has more reason than most to hope they can turn things around. His World Cup exploits inevitably created talk of a future in the IPL and a good Twenty20 stint could help in that direction. He's already signed up to play in the inaugural season of the Sri Lankan Twenty20 competition, which takes place later this summer. "I haven't played much Twenty20 before and this season will be a great experience for me," he says.

An equally great experience has been playing alongside another Gloucestershire import – Muttiah Muralitharan. "It's surreal to have Murali in the dressing room!" he says. "His record speaks for itself but he's a gentleman, he's funny, he's loud and chirpy. He's great! He's settled in well and has already had an effect on the team, giving advice to batsmen and spinners from his time in the IPL."

For all Murali's experience, though, Gloucestershire need a break. Perhaps it will come in their next game, at the Rose Bowl against title-holders Hampshire on Friday. The superstitious O'Brien, at least, is doing all he can. "I've always put my left pad on before my right," he says. "I don't know how I've got into it, but more recently, when I take guard, I scrape the ground three times with my studs and tap my bat seven times. It doesn't always work." It did in Bangalore, and no one will be surprised if at some stage it does in Bristol.

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