x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Kevin O'Brien is a big hit with Ireland

The fastest centurion in ODIs has come a long way since his first visit to Abu Dhabi and is currently enjoying a good run of form.

Kevin O’Brien, who hit a hundred off 50 balls against England last year, has come a long way.
Kevin O’Brien, who hit a hundred off 50 balls against England last year, has come a long way.

DUBAI // Granted, of all the myriad facts surrounding six-hitting in cricket, it is hardly the most glamorous. Not like Albert Trott being the first to hit one over the Lord's pavilion. Or Sir Garfield Sobers being the first to get six of them in one over.

However, the first international cricketer ever to hit a six across the sizeable distance from the centre wicket of the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi into the seats of the main stand will return to the ground today.

It is not Shahid Afridi. Or Virender Sehwag. Given how his life has panned out in the six years since, becoming the first to reach the grandstand has become a minor insignificance in the career of Kevin O'Brien.

His profile has changed markedly since he belted Piyush Chawla into the posh seats in a EurAsia Cup match for Ireland against India A at the newly-built ground in 2006.

Becoming the fastest centurion ever in a World Cup match, as he did a little over a year ago against England in India, saw to that.

"It has been great," O'Brien said yesterday, of his rise from minor statistical quirk to record breaker. "The last 16 months for me personally have been fantastic for my cricket. My game has gone from strength to strength.

"I am a lot fitter now, which is all down to working with Cricket Ireland and being a professional cricketer, working day in and day out with [the national team coach] Phil Simmons. Hopefully there are a few years left of that."

Anyone who witnessed his feats in that upset against England 12 months ago, in particular one monstrous six he hit off James Anderson, will not expect him to stop at the front rows against Oman today. What about becoming the first person ever to carry to the grandstand roof.

He will need to have a few Shredded Wheat for breakfast this morning if he is going to do that, but he was warming up nicely yesterday.

O'Brien was the man of the match in Ireland's easy win over Uganda at the Global Cricket Academy in Dubai, for his two cheap wickets and 39 from 20 balls.

The two sixes he hit into the small regiment of the Blarney Army nearly endangered the windows of the neighbouring Bradenton Academy.

With an increased profile that an innings of such destructiveness brings comes the burden of expectation, but O'Brien insists he is unencumbered.

"The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself," he said. "I don't really listen to what other people say, when it comes to the way they think I should play.

"Phil knows how I play, I know how I play and the guys in the team know how I play. I don't really put too much pressure on myself."