From College Park to Sabina Park, sometimes the big swing is worth the risk

Back in 2007, Ireland send shockwaves through the cricket world by seizing the moment

Ireland players celebrate their victory over Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

You hit your ones and twos and take a six when it comes. That is sound advice. But I have dumbly refused to live life to an old cricket adage. Suffering from terminal negativity and short-termism, it’s so easy to believe the six will never arrive.

The opinion was given after an outing on the College Park track over 40 years ago when every ball that came from the Trinity mortuary end seemed to speed up when it hit the grass. Then it wondrously changed direction.

That little punk in his filthy whites from some school in Palmerston was having a laugh at a first timer insanely hitting across the line on every ball. Apparently, it was called off break. For the schoolboy, it was poke the bear time.

The recurring problem when hitting was always impetuosity. That and seeing every ball, not as a one or two run opportunity, but once in a lifetime chance to crush a boundary to the rugby pitch or, over the railings on to one of Dublin city’s prestigious arteries, Nassau Street.


If you had the length to hit a window in the Kilkenny Design Centre the theory went that the lights would flash and an alarm go off. The Ramblers, Taverners, whatever it is you want to call a hotch-potch team of people who played other sports seriously but not cricket, wasn’t always to go big or go home. But it was for me. It usually didn’t work.

It was similar to playing golf. Given the option to hit up the fairway and around the dogleg to avoid the water hazard or cut the corner by smoking the ball over the lake. Easy. You swing harder and faster. You cut the corner. It doesn’t usually work.

The journey in sport isn’t to repeat things that fail and counterintuitively hope for different outcomes, but to hit the six when it cartwheels towards you screaming ‘here I am you preposterous sucker, hit me good’. It is the lottery ticket of life being thrown at you. Smash it.

See, it’s all about the challenge of leaving behind your ability. It is about feeling and understanding for a moment what it is like for those who are gifted with careers of endlessly hitting boundaries. You want to walk in their shoes.

Kevin O’Brien celebrates taking the wicket of Pakistan’s Shoaib Malik, caught behind the stumps by his brother Niall, during the 2007 World Cup match at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

On St Patrick’s Day in 2007 the Irish cricket team, then one of the ‘Associate Six’ who were allowed in for a look around the full members club of that year’s World Cup but were expected to leave before midnight, rocked up to Jamaica’s Sabina Park.

Ireland was that guy in the wrong shoes wearing a dress shirt he failed to return to Tango's Dress Hire and who put his pint behind the stumps for safe keeping. Opponents Pakistan was that little bugger from school, a border on day release who practiced cricket kung Fu.

On squaring up to Pakistan, the view was they might create a new Caribbean cocktail in memory of the ensuing green carnage. A cricket ‘Fists of Fury’. The cocktail would be called a ‘Calypso Eclipso’.

The details now are hazy. Let’s blame the free-flowing Jamaican Zombies. But to the back drop of the beautiful Blue Mountains, Ireland magically began to see sixes in Kingston’s sticky heat.

It began with Allah and Jehova providing a pitch that had a godly emerald tint, a fruitful coin toss and a bolt of lightning from the sky indicating that Pakistan should be put in to bat first.

There was no Bushmills distillery tour written in a la West Indies. Still, Ireland found they were chasing a modest 133 to win, the thunder yet to come.

The lasting image is of Irish wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien street fighting his way to a 72, at one point with his brother Kevin going hand to hand against a team adept at carving opponents to pieces, their dad ‘Ginger’ harrumphing support from the boozy end of the ground.

There is Pakistan bowlers running all the way up the pitch growling and pointing at the Irish batsmen. In a later report the sledging would be described as Pakistan employing ‘the most unsavoury, intimidating tactics in a vain attempt to win’.’

There is captain Trent Johnston hammering a six off bowler Azar Mahmood in the 42nd over and the celebrations beginning as Ireland qualify for the second round of the competition. An 'Associate Six' side into the Super 8s and the world number four team packing their bags.

There is Alison Mitchell on Test Match Special departing from the traditional BBC style book of ‘splendid boundary’ getting all begorra and bejaysus.

“Mamood to Johnston and he has cleared the boundary, it’s a six and the Irish captain leaps around the ground like a leprechaun.”

Kevin O’Brien did it again four years later in 2011 with the fastest century in World Cup history off just 50 balls against England to help his team chase down a target of 328.

Fourteen years on this week, pushing 38-years-old and over a dozen teams behind him from Kandahar Knights to Leinster Lightning, Rangpur Riders, Leicestershire and Surrey, he couldn’t quite pull it off against Sri Lanka in the T20 World Cup.

But there is always Jamaica. No different from a chancer in College Park cutting across the line and just once connecting for a long carry over the railings, sailing into Nassau Street.