Brother Act on St. Patrick’s Day

Two contrasting innings from the brothers Niall and Kevin O’Brien inspired the biggest upset in the history of One-Day International cricket at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica as Ireland sent Pakistan crashing out of the World Cup. Niall’s 72 provided the momentum, whilst Kevin’s defiant, unbeaten 16 provided the balls as they prevailed with three wickets to spare.

Earlier in the day, Boyd Rankin had taken three wickets and Andre Botha recorded the third-most economical spell in the history of the World Cup as Ireland’s electric fielding helped to reduce Pakistan to 132. Two early breakthroughs from Mohammad Sami shook the Irish chase, and a mini-collapse of three wickets for four runs in five balls shredded the nerves of the watching fans, but a nerveless maximum from Irish captain Trent Johnston saw them home.

All of the omens for something special were there from before the game began. Pakistan had looked dishevelled and directionless with the bat as they failed to chase the West Indies in the tournament opener, and Ireland had fought back from near-certain defeat against Zimbabwe to steal a tie in their first ever World Cup match.

Two thousand Irish fans filled the stands with Saint Patrick’s Day colour, and Ireland’s captain Trent Johnston gave Pakistan first use of an emerald green wicket to match.

It didn’t take long for Dave Langford-Smith to justify his captain’s faith. Mohammad Hafeez, having driven the bowler to the long-on fence, could only nick an away-swinger to Niall O’Brien behind the stumps. Langford-Smith could have had another in his next over, failing to cling on as Imran Nazir slammed the ball back to him in his follow-through.

Pakistan only had three balls’ grace to celebrate their reprieve, however, as Younis Khan failed for the second time in the tournament, edging Boyd Rankin to Andre Botha at slip, as their top order once again fell away. Mohammad Yousuf, though, is used to to that, and alongside $Imran Nazir he set about rebuilding the Pakistani effort, guiding his side past 50 as the second powerplay began.

Then the collapse began. Yousuf guided a drive straight to William Porterfield at backward point, and captain Inzamam only lasted three deliveries. Forcing unconvincingly at Botha – whose first five overs cost just one run, and whose final analysis read 8-4-5-2 – Pakistan’s captain picked out Eoin Morgan at a wide slip, and Imran Nazir followed in an identical manner.

Encouraged by the success of Botha’s gentle pace, Johnston turned to Kevin O’Brien’s occasional medium, and three balls later Pakistan were six down; brother Niall snaffling an inside edge behind the stumps at the second time of asking. The dominance of pedestrian medium couldn’t last forever, though – and Azhar Mahmood and Kamran Akmal combined to push Pakistan beyond 100 before Ireland returned to Rankin.

With a barrage of wides to his name already – the Essex bowler ended with 13 in his nine overs – Ireland were hoping that he could add Harmison-like bounce to his Harmison-like accuracy. Pakistan expected Harmison-like surrender and perished in their aggression. Mahmood and Akmal both fell in the same over to ill-advised shots, and there were echoes of Pakistan’s capitulation by hook shots as both skied catches on the onside. Mahmood fell to a regulation take by Johnston at midwicket, while Akmal was plucked one-handed from the sky as the Irish captain charged backwards.

It took Rao Iftikhar and Mohammad Sami to inject a measure of calm into the panicking Pakistani batting, and they added 25 in twelve circumspect overs before Pakistan provided their third pair of near-identical dismissals, this time off Kyle McCallan’s off-breaks. Sami slog-swept to a tumbling Jason Bray at deep backward square, and last man Umar Gul picked out substitute John Mooney inside the midwicket ropes. With 26 balls wasted, Pakistan were all out for 132, their joint-second-lowest score in World Cups, and a total that had only ever been defended once in ODI cricket – by Zimbabwe against England in the 1992 tournament.

Under greying skies, Pakistan’s hopes of victory – and of staying in the tournament – were dependent on taking early wickets, and Mohammad Sami, bowling with pace and swing, broke through twice early on. None of Ireland’s phalanx of left-handers seemed comfortable against bowling consistently quicker than 90mph (145kph), and Jeremy Bray and Eoin Morgan both perished leg-before as Ireland slipped to 15 for two as Niall O’Brien joined William Porterfield in the middle.

Runs were never easy for the batsmen to come by, but both left-handers scampered quick singles and O’Brien latched onto whatever width and length he was offered to keep the Irish in touch with the asking rate. Azhar Mahmood was unfortunate to have a loud LBW appeal against Porterfield turned down, and O’Brien was dropped by Mohammad Hafeez at short leg after fending away a short ball, 4 at kept the run-rate flowing as he began to use his feet to Hafeez’s spin.

Just before the third-wicket stand could reach fifty, it was ended by the off-spinner’s arm ball. Porterfield looked to force off the back foot to a ball that was too full and too straight for the shot to be without risk, and bottom-edged onto his stumps via his back leg. Andre Botha’s entry to the crease was greeted by the return of Mohammad Sami, and one of the single worst umpiring decisions of all time.

Sami swung the ball into Botha’s pads down the leg side – almost a full foot from the bat – Mohammad Hafeez made a scrambling save at short leg at the second attempt – and Brian Jerling raised his finger for no apparent reason: a decision so inept that even after several replays it was unclear what the umpire’s motivation had been. It was even conceivably given as LBW, the ball being just six inches away from going on to hit the stumps as opposed to twice as far from Botha’s bat.

Kevin O’Brien was next to join his brother Niall at the crease, and the wicketkeeper worked on to his half-century as the drizzle began to fall and the light began to close on Sabina Park. With the Irish sitting on 81 for four after 27.3 overs – and 12 runs ahead of the Duckworth/Lewis par score, umpires Bowden and Jerling made an offer of light that the brothers couldn’t refuse.

With Ireland sitting safely in the pavilion, the Kingston skies began to drench the cricket ground below. With more than 20 overs completed, the match was far enough advanced to mean that no further play would mean an Irish win – and Pakistani elimination – so the passing of the clouds was exactly what the Test nation had ordered.

Duckworth and Lewis revised the Irish target down by five runs as they trimmed three overs fro the rain delay, so as the game resumed Ireland needed 47 from 19.3 overs, and it was calculators at the ready in the dressing rooms. The O’Brien brothers continued to bat with a calm that suggested they were in the back garden in Dublin rather than the cauldron of the World Cup.

It took the introduction of Shoaib Malik’s offspin to spark new life into the match. Niall O’Brien advanced down the wicket to deposit him into the midwicket stands, but just one ball later his premeditated attempt to repeat the shot ended in a routine stumping. Andrew White clipped his first delivery to the midwicket boundary, but two balls later he fended Rao Iftikhar to short leg and the very next ball saw Kyle McCallan find second slip.

It was Trent Johnston and Kevin O’Brien charged with protecting the rabbits – and preventing the hat-trick. Rao completed that part of the task for the pair with a leg-side wide, and the target inched down to 12. Single to Johnston. 11. Another one. 10. A long hop hammered to the point boundary by O’Brien. 6.

O’Brien’s boundary ended Rao’s spell and, with Sami both bowled out, Inzamam was forced to turn to his other bowlers. Umar Gul speared his first delivery back well down the legside. Kamran Akmal did superbly to prevent the ball skidding to the fine leg ropes, but the target was down to five – and, courtesy of a Johnston guide to third man and an O’Brien scramble off his pads, Gul’s spell was over with just three more needed.

O’Brien worked a single as Hafeez returned to the attack, squeezing the target down to just two, and a desperate single as Imran Nazir fluffed his throw from point levelled the scores with 34 balls remaining. Skipper Trent Johnston blocked one – and despatched the next into the midwicket stands.

Pakistan’s World Cup Campaign was over, and the Irish – barring an even greater miracle on the part of Zimbabwe – have the mission of negotiating the Super Eight, and persuading their bosses to give them three more weeks off work. The repercussions for Pakistan, meanwhile, are only just beginning.

Pakistan 132
Kamran Akmal 27, Imran Nazir 24
Boyd Rankin 3-32, Andre Botha 2-5

Ireland 133-7
Niall O’Brien 72, Kevin O’Brien 16*
Mohammad Sami 3-29, Iftikhar Anjum 2-29

Ireland won by 3 wickets

Cricket Web Player of the Match
Niall O’Brien (Ireland) – 72

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Neil Pickup