The Caribbean’s biggest cricket tournament this summer will showcase a lucky Irishman.
Ireland all-rounder Kevin O’Brien cannot wait to get “back where it all started” when he links up with the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel in the Limacol Caribbean Premier League later this month.
“It is always fun to go back to the West Indies,” O’Brien said. “St Patrick’s Day 2007 was where it all started for myself and Irish cricket with that famous win over Pakistan. It announced Irish cricket to the world and we had tremendous support not only from our own fans but the West Indies fans who backed us too.”
The 29 year old scored the fastest hundred in International Cricket Council World Cup history, when he reached three figures from just 50 balls on the way to 113 from 63 deliveries against England in Bangalore in 2011, and has admitted it will be a “massive” tournament for him.
O’Brien and Ireland burst on to the international scene in the Caribbean at the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup when the men in green tied with Zimbabwe and beat Pakistan in Jamaica to make the Super Sixes before recording another win against Bangladesh in Barbados.
It means the region has a special place in the hearts of all those involved in Irish cricket and O’Brien is no exception when it comes to that love affair.
“It is great to play cricket in the Caribbean. The fans are very knowledgeable and appreciate entertaining cricket; that is what myself and T&T will be looking to provide.”
Since 2007, O’Brien has gone from strength to strength and now stands as Ireland’s most capped One-Day International player, the team’s vice-captain and someone capable of game-changing spells with his medium-pace bowling and destructive hitting, of the sort he showed against England.
Form like that was enough to earn him a place in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year and he admitted the prospect of lining up again among some of the world’s best players over the next couple of months would be a big test for him.
“It is absolutely massive for me in terms of my career, but having said that, I do not want to place too much pressure on myself,” he said. “It is going to be an excellent tournament with global exposure and I’ll be looking to impress and improve as a player and keep putting my reputation as a Twenty20 player out there on the world stage.”
O’Brien is looking forward to playing against players such as Chris Gayle and Ricky Ponting because he believes they will show him just how far his bowling has come on.
“You always want to test yourself against the best and these two certainly fit into that category. There are going to be world-class players in every team so it is going to be a great challenge to play with and against them in the tournament, hopefully learn from them and improve my own game.”
The younger brother of Niall, wicketkeeper for Ireland, Kevin says he just wants to learn and improve as a cricketer and that he is not going to put too much pressure on himself in terms of statistics.
“Hopefully, I will make all-round contributions and T&T will be successful. I am looking to enjoy my cricket, play with a smile on my face and entertain. I am certain it will be a wonderful tournament.”
And what does he think of the prospects for the Red Steel in the inaugural event, with his side’s campaign getting under way with a match against Guyana Amazon Warriors at Providence Stadium on 31 July?
“Looking at our squad, it is full of world-class players,” he said. “As well as Dwayne Bravo, Ross Taylor and Fidel Edwards, there is also Davy Jacobs, Samuel Badree, who been incredibly consistent and Kevon Cooper, who had those stints in the IPL.
“We have got a lot of experienced and exciting players who I think will do well in the tournament. It is a great team to be involved with and hopefully we can turn in strong performances throughout the competition.”
O’Brien will be helped by the fact that he has previous experience playing in Trinidad and can also rely on some inside information of the venue and the region too.
“Our national coach, Phil Simmons, is from Trinidad and we (Ireland) played a series of games there in 2010 prior to the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies,” he said. “We spent a week there in a training camp and finished it off with Twenty20 games against Trinidad. They won the first game by nine wickets but we gained revenge in the next match by the same margin.
“It is a really nice place to play cricket and I am looking forward to getting back to the Queen’s Park Oval. The pitches tend to be generally very good and conducive to exciting cricket which is what the fans want to see.”
The action will also act as perfect preparation for O’Brien’s return to international colours, with Ireland playing England in a one day international at the country’s new international venue, Malahide, on 3 September, before the side takes part in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the United Arab Emirates in October.
The inaugural Limacol Caribbean Premier League starts on 30 July in Barbados and concludes on 24 August in Trinidad.