Ireland earns wicket-big upset
Move over, Frank Reich. Kevin O'Brien has just one-upped you to engineer one of the greatest comebacks, and upsets, in sports history.
A scintillating and shocking assault from O'Brien catapulted Ireland to a thrilling three-wicket win over England at the Cricket World Cup on Wednesday to throw Group B wide open. Until Wednesday, Ireland's three-wicket win over Pakistan in 2007 was arguably the biggest upset in World Cup history, but beating England in Bangalore eclipses that.
"I think it's gotta be the greatest," Irish captain William Porterfield said. "I think knocking off the biggest run chase in the World Cup, I think this has to be the greatest and pretty much the greatest day of our lives."
While it may be easy to get caught up in hyperbole so soon after a match that made cricket fans' hearts race, the stats back up Porterfield's claims. Ireland made the highest successful run chase in World Cup history, passing England's total of 327 for 8 with five balls to spare.
Upon his return to Dublin, O'Brien will be welcome to free Guinness on the house for as long as he wishes. Don't be surprised if someone starts sculpting a statue of O'Brien to erect in Temple Bar, either. The burly batsman bashed his way to 50 runs in 30 balls, the fastest half-century for an Irishman in One Day Internationals. Not satisfied with that achievement, he took 20 more balls to record the fastest century in World Cup history, going 16 balls better than former Australian opener Matthew Hayden's 66-ball century against South Africa in 2007.
Much like Reich's improbable effort in the 1993 NFL playoffs, which led the Buffalo Bills back from a 35-3 deficit to defeat the Houston Oilers, O'Brien resurrected Ireland when all hope was fading away. Ireland started the run chase by losing Porterfield on the very first ball but overcame that to progress to 103 for 2 in the 21st over. Ed Joyce and O'Brien's brother, Niall, were batting nicely together until England spinner Graeme Swann wrecked their partnership to get both men out, and before long it was 111 for 5 in the 25th over.
At this stage, commentators on television and aficionados on Twitter were discussing scenarios for how quickly England could wrap up the match to improve its net run rate, a calculation used as a tiebreaker to separate teams that finish the group stage on equal points.
It was here that O'Brien started smoking the ball to all parts of the ground. Initially, it provided a bit of a laugh and some entertainment in what was a lost cause. After a short while, captain Andrew Strauss brought back his best pace bowlers in an attempt to dislodge O'Brien and put an end to Ireland's fun. The faster they sent the ball down, the faster he hammered it to the boundary. At one point he launched James Anderson into the crowd for the longest hit of the tournament, a six that traveled 102 meters.
Strauss, who was England's hero against India, turned into a goat against Ireland. O'Brien was on 91 when he mistimed a ball high in the air toward Strauss. He ran back and got two hands to the ball, but spilled it in the end. Fate declared that this was Ireland's day. Even though O'Brien got out for 113, he sprinted back on the field six balls later when John Mooney hit the winning runs.
Ireland's first win of the tournament is also the first for an Associate team at the 2011 World Cup. The Netherlands came close against England, and Ireland fell just short against Bangladesh, but today's win is a dish of humble pie served not only to England, but to the ICC. The overall performance of Associate teams has been much maligned, with many experts supporting the ICC's decision to cut them out of the next World Cup in 2015 and make it a 10-team event.
However, former England national team player and coach David Lloyd didn't hold back his support on air for Ireland while doing television play-by-play duties for ESPN Star Sports. Whether or not the ICC changes its mind regarding 2015, Lloyd summed up the sentiments of a legion of Associate supporters around the world with one classic comment as the final scorecard flashed across the screen: "Associate team there saying, 'Up yours!'"
Peter Della Penna is an American-born and raised cricket journalist who writes for ESPNcricinfo.com and DreamCricket.com. His work has also appeared in "The Wisden Cricketer" and "Wisden Cricketers" Almanack.
Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterDellaPenna