He is his country’s first Test centurion and he holds the record for the fastest ever Cricket World Cup century. Kevin O’Brien has achieved a lot in his cricket career but he isn’t finished yet. Talking to O’Brien recently, it’s clear that having plans for the future is not an indicator of hanging up his cricket boots. Fresh off the back of playing in Canada for the Edmonton Royals, I asked O’Brien questions about that century, plus his aspirations for the future including the potential of an IPL stint should one materialise.
First, I had to inquire about becoming Ireland’s first Test centurion. The list of Bannerman, Grace, Sinclair, Roach, Dempster, Amarnath, Nazar Mohammed, Wettimuny, Houghton, and Aminul Islam now has O’Brien added to it. I asked whether the realization of scoring Ireland’s first Test century had sunk in. The enormity of the feat is huge when you consider that it will always be on the record – no one else can be the ‘first’.
“Yea, it has finally sunk in. It is good to sit back, have a cup of tea and re-live the Test match - and to be the first test centurion for Ireland means a lot. Nobody can take it away, but I’m also thinking of what else can I do for Ireland in all formats. The Test was amazing, but it’s over now, and I want to keep producing performances for Ireland in the future.”
Ireland’s ‘glorious’ defeat, against Pakistan, was followed up by two comprehensive T20I losses to India. On the back of such a rollercoaster period earlier in the summer, I was interested in how O’Brien would be prepared for the upcoming series of T20Is and ODIs against Afghanistan in late August and early September.
“The focus turned for me the minute I landed back in Dublin after my Canadian [Global T20] experience. The Afghan series is the next big cricket for me and I’m looking forward to playing against Afghanistan again. Our games are always closely fought so hopefully, this will be an even series.”
O’Brien’s spell with the Edmonton Royals was not the most fruitful of periods. From his five innings, he scored 74 runs with a top score of 49. His return with the ball was not great either; conceding at 10.25 runs per over with just one wicket. Despite being a lean time for a player who has played in 189 T20 matches, the experience was still a positive one.
“The Global T20 was an amazing opportunity for me. To play in T20 franchise competitions around the world is a great test of your skills and a great chance to play with some amazing players, some of the biggest in the world. I learned a lot from playing in that environment and, hopefully, I can get to play in it again next year.”
O’Brien’s T20 experience includes playing for Rangpur Riders in the Bangladesh Premier League, Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel in the CPL, Northern Districts in New Zealand’s Super Smash as well as stints in England’s T20 competitions for Somerset and Surrey. I wanted to know if Kevin would like an opportunity in the IPL.
“I have, in the past, had aspirations to play in the IPL and I have been in the auction for the last 6 or 7 years. Just no team has signed me”. O’Brien continued, “I feel with the IPL that it’s a competition that is harder to get into than get out. So, once you’re in from the start you just keep your name in there. From that point of view, I feel my chances are gone but I have enjoyed playing in other tournaments and that has been a great experience.”
Returning to O’Brien’s international career, I asked him how he felt that Ireland would not be a part of the 2019 Cricket World Cup. There has been much debate over the lack of the smaller cricketing nations not playing in England next year. O’Brien chose to reflect on the situation rather than what might, or should, be the case.
“It will be hard to watch the World Cup and think of what might have been. But there is nothing to gain from thinking like that. We didn’t play good enough cricket to deserve qualification, plain and simple.”
The tournament will be much the poorer for Ireland not qualifying. Three of the biggest shocks of the tournament have come from Ireland and O’Brien featured in all of those games. In 2007, he was part of the three-wicket victory that sent Pakistan spiralling out of the tournament. In 2011, that fastest ever hundred helped Ireland to chase down England’s 329/7 in Bengaluru. Also, he featured in the Irish victory in 2015 against the West Indies. The 2019 iteration will be bereft of such giant-killing opportunities.
My final question was to find out what was the Kevin O’Brien masterplan once he finished playing cricket.
“I’m finishing my Level 3 coaching course and have started to gain some coaching experience while I’m still playing to make the transition easier once I retire. I recently did a week consultancy work with Denmark during their five-game T20 series against Germany.”
Fortunately, future Irish cricket hopefuls will have his vast experience to benefit from. Having played 125 ODIs and 65 T20Is, O’Brien has much to put back into cricket and intends to do just that.
“I also have my own coaching academy in Ireland where I coach individuals of all ages and standards, and also do a lot of Club sessions which have proved to be valuable to the clubs. Coaching is an option, but I’m also interested in studying to become an umpire. I feel that I would enjoy that side of the game and there could be a career in that for me.”
O’Brien continued, “For the moment, I have no thoughts on retiring from playing. I’m 34 and still enjoying the game and the challenges it brings and while that is the case I can’t see myself hanging up the boots any time soon.”