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Richard Bullick

Kevin O'Brien smashed the fastest ever World Cup century as Ireland dramatically brought the tournament to life by sensationally eclipsing England in a remarkable run-fest in Bangalore. The men in green had never beaten their near neighbours before but made history in stunning style by reaching their target of 328 with five balls to spare - the highest successful chase by any nation in the competition's history. This team has given all who follow them some wonderful days over the past few years, including in the 2007 World Cup, but this thoroughly-deserved triumph topped the lot.

The record-breaking win was made even more memorable by the fact that this fantastic feat looked a very long way off with Ireland apparently dead and buried midway through their innings at 113 for five needing another 215 for a fairytale victory. To win from there required something special and the younger of the O'Brien brothers produced the greatest ever innings by an Irishman with a superb swashbuckling century which will live long in the memory of the cricketing world, not just his countrymen. O'Brien's brutal power-hitting was mixed with wonderfully timed shots as he blasted an amazing hundred - the normal, over-used superlatives don't do it justice - in a mere 50 balls before clinically changing tempo as an almost impossible equation became manageable. His incredible clean hitting was matched by clarity of thought on a day when Ireland's fantastic fighting spirit and self-belief was complemented by tactical brilliance.

In the end, they were able to withstand two run-outs in the closing stages - including O'Brien for 113 and his foil in the match-winning stand of 162 in only 17 overs, Alex Cusack - to get over the line with calm composure. John Mooney, Ireland's most improved player over the last 12 months also had a dream day, taking four wickets with his medium-pacers and then seeing the team home with a decisive, unbeaten 33 in 30 balls. He hit the winning runs while the 2007 World Cup captain Trent Johnston - who struck the final blow in Ireland's previous most famous victory, over Pakistan in Jamaica four years ago - was also there at the end and had helped ease the tension by hitting his first ball for four. But the man-of-the-match award went to O'Brien, whose extraordinary exploits had totally changed the course of the evening. He got into his stride from the off by breaking the shackles imposed by England's slow bowlers before taking apart anyone Andrew Strauss turned to in a vain attempt to stem the flow.

Initially it felt like a defiant flourish, a declaration of intent to go down fighting instead of simply subsiding tamely. Then we thought of it as excellent entertainment, albeit for a smallish crowd. Then we were relieved that it would reduce Ireland's margin of defeat to respectable proportions. It was to be savoured but surely too good to last. We didn't dare to think the unthinkable. By this stage we should have had more faith in Ireland though, and their innovation in taking the batting powerplay after 31 overs instead of, formulaically, later in the innings was richly rewarded. Slow bowler Michael Yardy went for only seven off its last over but the previous four had yielded 55 as O'Brien, supported superbly by Cusack, emphatically cut loose. The batting powerplay has often confused supposedly superior sides to Ireland but the men in green got the most out of it.

With a half-century partnership already under their belts, O'Brien and Cusack doubled the value of their stand in those few overs of mayhem and continued imperiously thereafter. Potential disaster struck in the 42nd over when, with Cusack nearing what would have been an excellent if little-noticed half-century of his own, the Australian-born all-rounder - restored to the team in place of Andrew White - made sure he sacrificed himself rather than O'Brien being run out. But Mooney magnificently rose to the occasion, shouldering responsibility for facing more than his share of deliveries and keeping the run-rate healthy during a period when O'Brien largely lost the strike and some momentum. The two added an invaluable 44 for the seventh wicket in less than seven overs at a time when the now more modest required run-rate could easily have crept up, with Mooney making 28 of them.

It was O'Brien's turn to be run out when beaten a superb return from the deep by Tim Bresnan as Ireland - now needing only a run a ball - tried to take two off the first ball of the penultimate over bowled by Stuart Broad. His 113 off 63 balls - the previous record for a World Cup century was 66 balls by Australian opener Matthew Hayden - with half a dozen sixes and 13 other boundaries rightly brought a sustained ovation but Irish nerves were jangling again. If victory was snatched away now this would be the cruellest loss of all. We need not have feared. Johnston immediately found the boundary and Mooney did likewise when James Anderson started the last over with Ireland three short of making history. Ireland have bounced back brilliantly from that desperately disappointing defeat by Bangladesh in their opening game last Friday and quarter-final qualification is now very much back on the agenda ahead of Sunday's mouthwatering match against tournament favourites and hosts India.

A few days ago, Ireland had fallen 27 short chasing a modest 206 against the Tigers so 328 seemed too many at the interval and all the more so when captain William Porterfield fell to the first ball of Ireland's reply. His young opening partner Paul Stirling struck out boldly but after he hit one up in the air after scoring 32 off 28 balls, Ireland only managed a paltry total of six runs from the first four overs of the bowling powerplay as key man Ed Joyce dropped anchor. Kevin O'Brien's brother, wicket-keeper Niall, flourished for a while before being bowled by Graeme Swann for 29 and the world's leading spinner struck two more massive blows by having Joyce (32) stumped and Gary Wilson - a late replacement for the indisposed Andre Botha - leg before for three. That made it 111 for five in the 25th over, three wickets having fallen for eight, but that was as good as it got for an England team who have now leaked 959 runs in three matches.

Having chased 292 to beat Holland and 338 to tie with India, England wouldn't have hestitated to take first use of the benign Bangalore wicket after Strauss won what looked like a good toss. From the outset it was hard to see how Ireland could keep the opposition close to 300 and although 328 would have been considered a match-winning score at the time, England were ultimately left looking back in anger and the knowledge it should have been much more. In the event, England will feel that there were reverse parallels with their game in the same stadium last Sunday - when careless late batting and good Bresnan bowling proved the difference between India really getting out of sight rather than posting the 338 which the English eventually matched. This time an overhauling of a 300-plus score seemed less likely given that the team batting second are an associate nation who were all out for only 178 against a weaker Bangladesh side a few days ago. Between innings few felt Ireland could create another new chapter in their cricketing history.

Even on a batsman-friendly pitch at a ground with shortish boundaries and a fast outfield, we worried - not reckoning on O'Brien's miracle man contribution on a day when a knee injury sustained in the field prevented him bowling - it would require the perfect storm for Ireland to reach their target. You reckoned that they'd need almost all their main men to make major contributions, including a captain's innings from Porterfield but it took only took one ball for that script to be torn up as the skipper drove at a loose one from England's errant opening bowler and to the horror of himself and the Blarney Army dragged the ball onto his stumps! Apart from the symbolism of seeing the skipper's stumps shattered for a golden duck right at the start of such a gigantic chase, another annoying aspect of the dismissal was the fear that it could help rejuvenate an out-of-sorts Anderson who had been caned by both the Dutch and Indians - going for over 90 in each match. Porterfield has been prolific in most of Ireland's successful chases in recent years and having him ticking over at one end would have given Stirling some license to thrill at the other while also protecting Joyce for a little longer.

But the Sussex star, who of course played for England in the last World Cup, was in to face the second ball of the innings and made a shaky start, including surviving a review of an lbw decision against a fit-again Broad - restored to their team today in place of Azmal Shahzad. Stirling raised Irish spirits by smacking Broad for a superb six before the over was out but Anderson then managed what the men in green didn't do throughout the first innings - bowl a maiden with little inkling at that juncture of the Irish onslaught which would follow later in the evening. Earlier, with England fresh from their confidence-building chase of 338 against India, Ireland fans feared their team would really be put to the sword and that anxiety about the target increased as skipper Strauss and main man Kevin Pietersen were rattling up an opening stand of over 90, including 72 in the first 10 overs of the innings. Although the two openers fell somewhat carelessly in fairly quick succession, England's third highest partnership in World Cup history - 167 by Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell - left Ireland looking down the barrel of potential carnage in the closing overs.

England were powerfully placed at 278 for two in the 43rd over so the underdogs deserve enormous credit for restricting them to 49 for six from the remainder of the innings as Ireland's hard work was belatedly rewarded - though the real reward would come later. The recalled Cusack hadn't had a great afternoon with the ball, going for 39 in four overs spread across three spells, but surprise package Mooney managed nine overs and by the end had four wickets to show for his efforts. Johnston bowled his full quota, taking two for 58, and although big Boyd Rankin was again expensive and wicketless, he kept England to a meagre three runs from the 48th over of their innings.

With Botha missing and O'Brien out of action, Portferfield - who made many bowling changes - was indebted to his spinners with teenage slow left-armer George Dockrell not flattered by final figures of one for 68 and fellow youngster Stirling proving the big bonus by restricting England to only 45 from his 10 overs as well as taking Pietersen's prized scalp. It was a true team effort but Kevin O'Brien was a giant amongst heroes on a dream day for everyone involved in Irish cricket.


Kevin O'Brien's 113 for Ireland (Star Sports)