|| CF Correspondent ||
Niall O’Brien was one of the few cricketers from Ireland who gave the country an identity in the cricket world. Along with his brother Kevin O’Brien he formed a formidable partnership that gave some of the established cricketing powerhouse hard crack more often than not in the ODI cricket, when even they were not the permanent member in this format. O’Brien’s hard work and fine performance was key in Ireland’s permanent membership in ODI and Test format. He was the part of Ireland’s maiden Test against Pakistan in May last year after which he retired from the cricket. He then chose to be a commentator to keep him closer to cricket. In an interview with Cricfrenzy’s Muhammad Jubair he talked about his ambition, future goal, possibility of Irish and Bangladesh cricket.
Excerpts are here...
Cricfrenzy: How do you savour your new job post retirement?
Niall O’Brien: So far so good. Very enjoyable. I had been doing this same stuff about four or five years, while I was playing. Now that I retire from playing, now I am doing lot more, more of a full timer now. Yeah, It’s good. It’s lovely coming back to Bangladesh. I haven’t been here since 2014. So nice being back here and seeing lot of friendly faces.
CF: Experience of watching the game from far…
Niall: Surely it’s certainly different, I think you can take a step back and really analyze the game, play by play. Where is when you are in the middle you are kind of more in the moment, you kind of leaving and breathing every ball. I suppose from the commentary box on the micro phone, you kind of take a step back, see the game unfold a bit more in front of your eyes, rather being so emotional in the contest itself.
CF: How do you see the game of cricket changing over the years?
Niall: It’s such a powerful game now, power and fitness. People who play three format of the game, have to be fit, strong, healthy. The game is moving so quickly. T20 is evolving all the time. In this tournament 239 scored, big scores like 400 in fifty over cricket is no problem. Test run rate 4 an over, so the game is evolving for the better. Lot’s going for it. And the player’s skill level are unbelievable. In the field, I am just mesmerize by the fielding, specially the young players.
CF: On growing up on a cricketing family…
Niall: I was, yeah. We played all sport. We played football, hooky. Cricket was my real love. All of my family played cricket. Six kids, we all played cricket, everyday. To make a career playing cricket for Ireland, travel the world, make so many friends, put smiles on faces all around the world, I have been very lucky. I am really greatfull to everyone to give me the opportunity to continue on work in cricket. Now I am retired, in the media, which is very global.
CF: How was cricket in Ireland when you started back in early 2000s?
Niall: It is chalk and cheese. You can’t imagine what it was like when I was playing. There was no contracts, no infrastructure. You barely got your kit. You got couple of shirts and a cap, that was it. If you were very lucky, you got a free sponsor for bats and gloves. But now it’s a big industry. Cricket players earning good money in Ireland. They are traveling the world, playing test match cricket. The game is evolved a lot. The number of people playing cricket is growing all the time. The future is very bright in Ireland. We could just do little bit better with that.
CF: You are very much part of the golden era of Ireland cricket, growing up did you guys feel that way?
Niall: Yes, I think we acknowledge at the time, we were very good team, very settled team. You can pick yourself every time Ireland play, nine or ten common players is going to play every time Ireland play. The Joyces, The O'briens, Johnson, Mooney all these people. I think we had a, as you said, the golden generation. But there is some good young players coming through. They need opportunity, they need a bit of help, they need a bit of guidance. And international cricket is tough. You don’t get any easy games. So you have to learn quickly.
CF: When you started, did you guys had dreams of representing Ireland in the world cup, Ireland played their first world cup back in 2007.
Niall: Yes, I always felt that we could play in the world cup. I must say when I was playing I never thought I would play test match cricket. I thought that would be after my time. Last May was a wonderful occasion. But I loved world cups, I love being in the big teams and the world is watching. Every media in the world watching. You could play for the big crowd, get a win and the whole media, whole world talked about Irish cricket for few days. That was big fun for me.
CF: On scoring 72 against Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup…
Niall: Wonderful, it actually changed my life for the honest. I went into the game with very bad form. I wasn’t batting very well. The coach kept backing me, kept backing me. He knew I was good player. Something just happen that day and all clicked. That day definitely changed my life and help me catapult to various leagues, you the BPL, ICL. Traveling the world, getting to know more famous people then me, becoming friends with some big names. That was huge moment for me.
CF: Post 2007 world cup time was great for Ireland cricket, they beat some of the big boys of world cricket.
Niall: Beat some big boys, yeah. T20 world cup in England 2009 was good. We got to the super eights. And then 2010, we got washed out from T20 world cup. 2011 world cup was good. Came here to Dhaka, probably had a chance to beat Bangladesh. We made a mess of it. Myself and my brother we are both played well, one of us needed to get 50 or 60s, we bulk it out in 30s. And then beating England was wonderful.
CF: Beating England back in 2011 world cup changed Ireland cricket?
Niall: Historical run chase it was. We chased 300 three times in world cup. We beat the West Indies in 2015, chasing 320 odd and beat Netherlands that same year in Kalkata. But yeah, that match made the world really stand up again, it wasn’t just a flash in the pan beating Pakistan back in 2007, actually beating England and chasing down. And Kevin played so well. It was huge moment for everyone in Ireland and the whole of Ireland actually got involve in the cricket. And they embrace cricket and Kevin was the actual star.
CF: Your world cup record is pretty good…
Niall: Yeah, my world cup statistics are very good. Avg. 40 in the world cup 2011, avg. 40 in the world cup 2015 as well. So I love the big stage. I actually struggle…my biggest problem was playing against games against small teams. Not many people watching. Against the lesser teams, I didn’t get not many runs. I like showing off in front the big crowd.
CF: Did Ireland cricket felt that they were short of international matches when they were playing good cricket in the world stage?
Niall: I think we needed more games. I think team deserved more games. Unfortunately the big games were few and far between for whatever reason. So that was a bit disappointing. You know we just did the most with what we have. I was busy playing county cricket as well. So that kept me busy but I am sure people back in Ireland would love more games to watch, specially against the Indians, Australians, Pakistanis. That was bit of a shame, but Ireland has a lot of games coming up. Big summer ahead. Huge games and I am looking forward to being in the commentary box.
CF: What’s your view on ten team’s world cup?
Niall: To be honest with you, It’s a poor call. I think all 12 members have an automatic qualifications. That’s 12 and there should be two associate members. Ideally my personal view is, there should be 14 teams. May be have two group with seven teams in it. I think it’s incorrect call, it is disappointing. But Ireland had the chance to qualify, we didn’t play well enough. Unfortunately we knew what the situation was, we didn’t play well enough to get there.
CF: You have said that you never thought you would play test cricket in your playing career. Test status came as a surprise for Irish players?
Niall: I think we knew it was going to happen. If you would have asked me in 2014, 2015, will Ireland play test cricket while I was playing, I would have say no. I thought it would be one to two years down the line. I think full credit goes to the chef executive and the board for getting Irish cricket that far. And the players who are good enough for that level. We had a great game against Pakistan. It was an wonderful game. You know Pakistan played their part, they were super ambassador for Pakistan cricket. It was a good game, good crowd. It went down to the last day. So everyone had a good day really.
CF: How was the feeling that day, it was a historical moment for Ireland cricket.
Niall: Absolutely amazing. That first morning, getting my cap, shared a few tears. Very nervous at the start of the game, first couple of balls, very nervous in the field. But we have got a wicket early, so we settled in. It was a great game, unfortunately I didn’t get too many runs. But that’s the way it goes. Mohammad Amir, knock my two stumps out of the ground. It was wonderful, I really enjoyed it.
CF: Your brother gets a hundred again…
Niall: It was incredible innings. I didn’t think he could play with such composer. He defended very well, he showed great technique, great mental aptitude and the bad ball came, he putted away. So it was astonishing really.
CF: It must have been emotional for the whole O'brien family…
Niall: Very emotional. Mom and dad was there. All of our family were there. Everyone was there on the sideline. So again, sharing more tears.
CF: Ireland showed a lot of fight, Do you think that’s was a good sign going forward for Ireland cricket in the test level?
Niall: I think yes, in Irish condition specially. We got the bowlers. Ireland play test match soon in Dehradun against Afghanistan, which is going to be tough. You know in the dry wicket against Rashid Khan, Mujibur rahman, Mohammad Nabi. So this is going to be big test probably. It is going be tougher game compare to Pakistan at home, because of condition.
CF: Regret you retirement decision, because Ireland will play more test cricket in the upcoming months.
Neill: No I don’t regret at all. I stop enjoyed practicing. Last six months I stop enjoying practicing. I always love practicing. I knew then, if I wasn’t enjoying practicing, I wasn’t prepared properly. I didn’t want to continue playing if I wasn’t playing as well as I would like. I am happy with my decision. I am enjoying the next phase of my life.
CF: Ireland won’t be featuring in the next world cup, Do you think it will hamper the progress of Ireland cricket?
Niall: It is disappointing. But they have got a lot of cricket coming. Ireland got a of games back in Ireland this summer. Tri-series with Bangladesh and West Indies. Zimbabwe series and the Afghanistan, test match against England. So lots to look forward to. Boys just got to keep working hard and enjoy the cricket.
CF: Is there enough cricketers are coming through from the cricketing system of Ireland?
Niall: There is a lot more and they are playing cricket where people never played cricket before. Which is a main thing. It’s not just the same area, everywhere people is playing cricket. And the demographic are changing. Lots of people from Asian background living in Ireland, they are playing cricket. We have already have one player, Simi Singh, born in Punjab, he is playing for Ireland. I am sure next ten years, you are going to see more and more people from Asian backgrounds playing for Ireland. Which is a great thing, cause we all know a mystery spinner or a big hitting batsman are important.
CF: How do see Bangladesh chances this year’s Ireland tour?
Niall: It will be a good series. Bangladesh played in Ireland couple of years ago and they played well. Bowlers are actually enjoyed it, specially the quicks. Because wickets were green. Bangladesh now have some very good seam bowlers. I am very impress with the young bowlers here. Obviously Taskin Ahmed doing very well and the Rubel Hossain. But I am impress with lot of the young boys. I think there is some real talent coming through. So it’s exciting. I am looking forward to see then in my home town.