Even Kevin O’Brien thought Ireland were down and out against England – before he started one of the most memorable innings in World Cup history.
O’Brien (113) smashed England to every corner, and over most, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in a 50-ball century which turned tonight’s Group B match on its head.
He hit 10 fours and six sixes on his way to three figures faster than any other batsman in the 36-year history of this tournament, dominating a stand of 162 with Alex Cusack as Ireland completed the World Cup’s highest-ever run chase.
Yet asked whether he thought Ireland had any chance when he came in at 106 for four – soon to be 111 for five – he said: “Honestly, no.
“But we just took a chance. You cannot write yourself off in any one-day cricket.”
O’Brien, who will be 27 on Friday, made England’s first-choice attack look horribly exposed – albeit on a wonderful batting pitch which had seen Jonathan Trott (92) and Ian Bell (81) help their team post 327 for eight.
Watched by his father Ginger, a former Ireland captain, and mum Camilla – as well as brother Niall, one of the four batsmen out before him – O’Brien reflected with entirely justified pride on his achievement, and Ireland’s three-wicket win.
He has always been a natural big hitter, but did not usually get the same plaudits when he kept losing the ball as a child.
“That’s a long way the best innings I’ve ever played,” he said.
“It even eclipses playing in the back garden with Niall, where hitting it out of the garden was out.”
That was not the case tonight, as the Irish contingent in a modest crowd lapped up every moment.
“I think anyone is going to struggle to beat that innings. It doesn’t get any better,” Ireland’s hero added.
“I’ll take that – a World Cup 100 off 50 balls in front of a billion people under lights against England.
“I score pretty quickly – and in the last three games I’ve backed my own ability.
“If it’s there to be hit, I’ve tried to hit it as hard as I can.”
O’Brien had a parting shot for England too, just in case they were thinking up any mitigation for conceding a 300-plus total for the second match in succession at this venue.
“I don’t think England had any answers.
“They didn’t know what they were up to with their bowling plans.”
O’Brien is sporting an unmissable pink and blond hairdo, having dyed his natural redhead two days ago when Ireland decided a team makeover was in order to support a cancer charity.
After his innings of a lifetime, he is tempted to keep the new look – even though he admits it is not to everyone’s taste. “My girlfriend doesn’t like it too much – she’s begging me to shave it off,” he said.
“But it’s a tremendous day, and we’re all very proud.”
O’Brien’s captain Will Porterfield made a first-ball duck – hardly an auspicious start to the run chase – but unsurprisingly, he too was all smiles at the sensational outcome.
After Ireland’s first win over England in any format, he said: “I think it’s the biggest win Irish cricket has ever had.
“Beating England in any sport is a fantastic occasion, and I’m sure a lot of people back home have been given something to smile about.
“It shows what we’ve been threatening to do for a while.
“Doing it is a different story to thinking about it.
“We’ve had that belief for a couple of years – and we firmly believe we can beat anyone.”