Bookies force spot-fixing on players: Kevin O'Brien

An aggressive lower middle-order batsman, Kevin O’Brein is the holder of the world record for the fastest century ever scored at a World Cup, from 50 balls in Ireland’s famous victory over England in the 2011 World Cup. He was also part of the side that knocked Pakistan out of the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies © Getty Images

By Amir Husain

Kevin O’Brien made his One-Day International (ODI) debut for Ireland in 2006, which was also their inaugural ODI. In the seven years since, the all-rounder has been a key part of some historic moments for his nation. 

In 2010, O’Brien was awarded a central contract and was subsequently appointed vice-captain of the national side in January 2012. The 29-year-old has played English county cricket for both Nottingham and Somerset and his versatility as an all-rounder has seen him play T20 cricket both in England and in the most recent edition of the Bangladesh Premier League

An aggressive lower middle-order batsman, he is the holder of the world record for the fastest century ever scored at a World Cup, from 50 balls in Ireland’s famous victory over England in the 2011 World Cup. He was also part of the side that knocked Pakistan out of the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. 

With Ireland due to face Pakistan in the upcoming two ODI series at home, PakPassion.net spoke to O’Brien about his thoughts on the matches, and his career to date.

Excerpts from an interview: 

PakPassion.net (PP): With Ireland due to meet Pakistan in a few weeks time, what are your thoughts on the upcoming series?

Kevin O’Brien (KB): I’m looking forward to the games first and foremost. It’ll be a great chance for me personally and for the team to show what we can do again. It’s been a while since we’ve played a full member [team]. I am hoping that the weather will hold out in Ireland and we will get a big crowd who will get behind us. It’s going to be two great days and I’m really looking forward to it. 

PP: Do you have any specific plans on how to tackle Saeed Ajmal in the upcoming matches against Pakistan?

KB: Just watch the ball! We played against him two years ago and we know that he’s obviously a tricky customer and one of the best spinners in the world. We’ll have to give him the respect he deserves and really watch the ball and try to score off as many balls as we can. There are no specific plans for Saeed Ajmal; just go out and enjoy facing a great spinner.
 
 
PP: Turning to your career, why did you decide to play cricket and not football or rugby — sports that Ireland is more famous for? 

KB: I am the youngest kid in a family of six children. My dad played cricket for Ireland and played cricket in Ireland for 50 years. We always had a feeling towards cricket and I suppose, from that point of view it was inevitable that I would play the game. That’s why I focused on cricket more so than football or any other sports. 

PP: Were people trying to convince you to play other sports?

KB: Like most kids around the world, I played a lot of sports growing up. I played soccer for the local team, I played a bit of rugby for my school and also Gaelic, which is the Irish national game and I also had a go at field hockey. I suppose, I played all sports growing up but from the age of 16 or 17, I focused fully on cricket. 

PP: What is your proudest moment as a cricketer?

KB: In terms of proud moments, a few stick out in my memory. My debut for the Irish team in 2006 and being involved with World cup qualifiers and the ICC World Cup in the last six years. It’s been a great time to play cricket in Ireland and to be an Irish cricketer. Those World Cups have meant a lot to me and every time we go into the World Cup it’s great to play cricket. 

As far as games are concerned, the one against England is the proudest from a personal point of view as I established the world record [fastest century] at that World Cup. I suppose, beating England in the World Cup in Bangalore has to be the best one for me. 

I recall that as I was getting closer to my hundred, I was telling myself to relax and get the eight or nine runs I needed to get. It was fantastic. That was couple of years ago now, but it’s still there in the memory bank and it still puts a smile on my face. 

PP: Casting your mind back to the 2007 World Cup victory over Pakistan. What are your memories of the game?

KB: That was another great day. It was 2007, St Patrick’s Day and probably the day Irish cricket was put on the map and it was great to be involved in the victory over Pakistan. To be there 16 not out at the end when Trent [Johnson] hit the winning runs was simply fantastic.

I remember waking up that day— the weather was a bit overcast and there was a little bit of rain in the air. The wicket was a bit green and we won the toss and bowled. Everything went right for us that day, we took all our catches, we bowled well my brother, Niall, went out and got a splendid 72 to put us on the brink of victory. 

The aftermath of the defeat with the tragic death of Bob Woolmer, was a great shock to everyone that was playing in the World Cup. He [Woolmer] was a great man and a great coach and he changed a lot in world cricket. It wasn’t just Pakistani cricket that was affected but he also changed the way cricket was played in general. 

PP: Which would you say was more of an achievement, defeating Pakistan in 2007 or England in 2011?

KB: It’s a difficult one. From a personal perspective, I’d slide towards the England one because of the personal milestone achieved, but from a team point of view it would be the Pakistan match. We were all amateurs back then, we probably only had one professional player in the team. We had a postman, a fireman and some students! We were just a bunch of regular people playing in a World Cup, beating one of the best teams in the world and knocking them out of the World Cup was a great achievement. From a team point of view, that was a fantastic thing to do!

PP: What does Ireland need to do to kick on and obtain Test status?

KB: We need to keep winning as many games as we can on the field. We just need to keep dominating and be the best associate team, as we have been over the last six or seven years. There’s nothing else that we can really do on the pitch. We’re doing all we can and the Cricket Ireland board needs to put a few things in place in terms of first class cricket and multi-day cricket in Ireland and I think they’re certainly going towards that. You just have to keep winning and be the best players you can be. 

PP: Do you find it frustrating to see teams like Bangladesh being classed as Test teams and other talented teams like Ireland having to wait to gain Test status?

KB: It’s obviously frustrating for recognition to take so long. Bangladesh, when they were given full status, were probably dominating associated cricket for 10-12 years. We’ve only been doing it for six or seven years. We’re still a few years away from being a Test team. We don’t have as many players as they have in Bangladesh — the player pool is smaller in Ireland. In the future, possibly in three of four more years, Ireland could be playing a Test match against Bangladesh — you never know!

PP: Do you think the standard of cricket amongst associates has improved in recent times?

KB: It definitely has improved over the last five or six years. There is more competition in every tournament that we go and play and it seems that there are more and more teams that are able to win the competition. The likes of Afghanistan are a good side, as are Holland who are improving all the time. Then you have the likes of Scotland who are getting better and better with their young team. We’ve got to be wary of that every year there are teams trying to knock us off the number one spot and we have to continue to improve every single year. It’s definitely getting more and more competitive at the associate level and it’s great to see. 

PP: Do you feel Ireland are being given enough opportunity to play the top sides?

KB: It’s a difficult one, because the bigger teams need to concentrate on Test series and one-day series that are already in place and to add an extra two or three games on the tour to play us is really difficult. I think over the last three or four years, the games we’ve played against the full members have increased. 

England have come over two or three times in the last couple of years and Pakistan are coming over for a few games in a few day’s time and they also came over in 2011. We’re getting more and more opportunities. We’d obviously like more but we can’t be too greedy. We just have to bide our time and when we do get a chance perform well and get a few victories. 

PP: How important is the T20 format?

KB: I love playing T20s! I’ve been playing in England during the last couple of seasons and went to Bangladesh in January. It’s definitely something I want to continue to do. It’s fantastic to be able to play in front of a stadium packed with 40 or 50,000 people. It suits my game massively and hopefully I can play more and more tournaments in future and gain more and more experience. 

PP: We’ve had allegations made at the IPL recently. Do you think it’s a major problem in cricket?

KB: It’s a bit of a shock as to the news that’s just come out of the IPL. It’s something the ICC are actively trying to stamp out of the game and have been for the last six or seven years since I’ve been involved in international cricket. The ICC are doing all they can, in my view. They’re giving guys advice and players are going to seminars on what to do if anything comes up to you. I think the players know what to do. Hopefully the ICC and the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) can get to these bookmakers who are forcing the issue on the players and hopefully they can stamp it out. 

PP: You say forcing the issue on players, but surely the players deserve some blame too?

KB: It’s a difficult one, but as for myself I’m fully aware of what to do if something happens such as if someone rings me up or something. That’s all I can say at the moment. It’s something that’s in the game and hopefully we can stamp it out sooner rather than later. 

PP: Have you ever considered playing for England?

KB: I don’t want to play for England. I have no desire to play for England. I’m 29 and If I wanted to play for England I’d have to wait four years before I could get residency; I would be 33 by the time that happens! So really, that’s not what I want to do. I’m happy playing for Ireland — in the green of Ireland. 

PP: What are your plans for the future?

KB: I’ll keep enjoying international cricket. Maybe have a go at coaching, but I’ve also thought about umpiring. I’ll make a decision closer to my retirement age which is hopefully a few years away!

Read more stories on IPL 2013 spot-fixing controversy

Catch live updates of IPL 2013 spot-fixing controversy here

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)