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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2011 ODI batting winner: The night of the possible

No one expected Ireland to pull off the biggest chase in World Cup history, against England. But they had one Kevin O'Brien in their midst to do just that

Sharda Ugra
Sharda Ugra
Kevin O'Brien now holds the record for the fastest hundred in a 50-over World Cup  •  Getty Images

Kevin O'Brien now holds the record for the fastest hundred in a 50-over World Cup  •  Getty Images

Kevin O'Brien would have been conspicuous anywhere that night in Bangalore. He had the physical frame of a tower block, the face of a 14-year-old, and pink hair. Or maybe purple. On March 2, 2011, O'Brien would have been hard to miss.
At the centre of the Chinnaswamy Stadium, not quite packed to its cavernous rafters, O'Brien made a statement that went beyond mere appearance. He became a human whirlwind. It was as if he had marched in and, in the space of a few hours, found the one thunderous command that made the cricket world pay attention to him and to Irish cricket.
Look at me, O'Brien's 113 said. Look at us, look at what we can do.
O'Brien's innings will always form one of the most vivid memories of that World Cup. To begin with, it had number-crunchers leaping off their sofas. O'Brien's 100 in 50 balls smashed Matthew Hayden's record for the fastest World Cup century (off 66 balls) by almost three overs. O'Brien launched an almost Hayden-esque assault against a decent-enough record, with physical domination and contemptuous violence.
The speed and ferocity of O'Brien's game was compelling, but entangled as much into the power of that innings is what it brought: where the game was before O'Brien came to the crease and what he was able to make of it.
Two days before their match against Ireland, England had stolen some of India's wind, chasing a score of 338 down to a tie. They seemed to be warming up nicely, putting down scores of 290-plus in their first three matches, and batted first in Bangalore - as teams always do in ODIs - leaving Ireland 328 to chase.
Ireland were teetering at 106 for 4 when O'Brien, their No. 6, walked in in the 23rd over. Those numbers will always whirl around O'Brien's legend but it is often forgotten that 12 balls later, Ireland were 111 for 5 in the 25th over. The batting had sunk into a bog. Half the innings was over and there were still 217 to get; to O'Brien, the math left him one option.
Older brother and Ireland wicketkeeper Niall said he'd seen something coming while looking at O'Brien in the field. "He was grumpy and moping around… When he's like that he tends to take the bull by its horns… he had misfielded, hurt his knee, and I just knew, that he had that kind of look in his eye."
England were blindsided. O'Brien faced Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy first-up, waited for a suitable sighter and teed off. Three fours in his first ten balls and the number of sighters began to increase. On the other side, his partner, Alex Cusack, made sure O'Brien, who had begun to wade into England's plans like they were Irish stew, was given enough strike.
Rarely did any team in the 2011 World Cup time its batting Powerplay as perfectly as Ireland did. In the tournament, batting Powerplays usually were a sign for teams rattling along calmly to suddenly go into crazy town and lose wickets. Not Ireland. Between the 32nd and 36th overs, O'Brien scored 45 of Ireland's 62 runs, including a stunning six over extra cover off Tim Bresnan and a 102-metre strike, the biggest six of the tournament, off James Anderson.
In that passage of play the game began to shift below England's feet and from then was on driven by Irish conviction. Early into his innings, O'Brien became the highest ODI scorer in Irish cricket, the fastest Ireland player to an ODI 50 - off 30 balls (the next 50 came in 20 balls). When the Powerplay endedm Ireland needed 99 at seven an over and O'Brien was 20 short of a century. It took him 11 balls to get there.
In the heart-pumping adrenaline of the chase, O'Brien's composure and Cusack's sangfroid are often forgotten. No matter how savage O'Brien's innings, at no stage was there unseemly haste. The England total was an edifice that would take some bringing down but O'Brien became the wrecking ball that kept coming at it. Cusack was out with 55 still left to get but their sixth-wicket partnership of 162 had changed everything. O'Brien was out in the penultimate over, with only 11 to get, run out going for a second, but Ireland didn't waste his effort. They won by three wickets with five balls to spare, clinically finishing off the biggest chase in a World Cup.
Whenever there's a big score reeled out by an Associate (a more respectable word than the ghastly "minnow") batsman, it's usually accompanied by a round of patronising head-patting from the big boys. Not this time.
This one came against a stronger team and in the face of a tall total. It came at a time when the wicket was not threatening but the circumstances were. It was an innings that won not merely respect but also a World Cup match. In a tournament of superstars and strong competitors, Kevin O'Brien took Ireland to centre stage.
Given cricket's power structures, who knows how and where Ireland cricket will eventually go. But on any day that they make any stride, whenever they are in strife, they will remember O'Brien and the 113. It was the night of the possible, when it all began. And he started it.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo