Series is gone but Kevin O’Brien and Ireland playing for ‘individual pride’

Ireland to name squad on Tuesday morning, England’s 14 is unchanged from Saturday

England v Ireland, 3rd ODI of 3: Tuesday at 2pm (Sky Sports Cricket)

When Kevin O'Brien refers to England as Ireland cricket's "biggest enemy" it is said with reserves of respect. Maybe even some affection.

For it was over the sea that one of the Irish game’s favourite sons served on the Lord’s ground staff as a youngster before taking the field for five counties across his long journey in the professional game. And of course, there’s Bangalore – the innings of his life, an extraordinary 50-ball World Cup century in March 2011.

It was the only time Ireland have defeated their neighbours and was a contender for the country’s most important step on the path to international cricket’s top table by the end of that decade.

Back then, O’Brien was 27, his hair a blend of peroxide blonde and red. Now, at 36, he looks more his age. Yet, it doesn’t detract for his desire to push and improve and win – especially when England are involved.

Sure, this series is gone – the visitors comfortably accounted for in the first two one-day internationals on Thursday and Saturday – but when the veteran speaks, it is about “individual pride” and trying to set straight their top-order batting woes. It’s about doing justice to the shirt he has worn some 246 times across three formats and 15 years.

When Ireland played their first Test match in 2018, and then a year later at Lord’s, there was a slight sense of giving games to players who had made it possible: the golden generation. Those players there since qualification for the 2007 World Cup and every landmark moment thereafter.

That has changed now, abruptly for William Porterfield, who is watching from the bench this week after leading the side for 11 years. Boyd Rankin and Gary Wilson have had similar experiences, now the spare parts rather than the spearhead and stumper. Since that week in Malahide two summers ago, Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien and Tim Murtagh have all retired.

That the younger O'Brien is still in this team reflects not only talent and experience but his desire to mentor younger players getting their first taste. Take Curtis Campher, the new all-rounder enjoying a tremendous start to his Ireland career having just re-located from South Africa, with whom he put on a half-century stand in the first game from the parlous position of 28 for five.

To the senior man, not only is he now a teammate but a coach too.

“A lot of people are expecting a lot of things from him,” he said of Campher, managing expectations. “But remember, he is 21 and has only played two games. So, I try and stress to people in the media and the general public of cricket: don’t expect too much too early from him. He’s had a great start but he’s still very young. He’s obviously got a lot of talent, but we’ve got to let him improve at his own rate and find his game as quickly as he can.”

Sure enough, it’s coaching O’Brien wants to go into, once the music finally stops. But before that, he wants to be part of the solution in the short term by injecting some positive energy into Ireland’s batting. That they took 17 overs to slump to 44 for four on Saturday - reflecting both England’s excellent bowling but also a timidity with the blade. No more of that, he says: “the bowlers have tried to take wickets all the time and from a batting point of view it is something we can look to, trying to be positive all the time.”

As for his longevity, O'Brien gives the answer you would expect from a player not ready for it to finish yet – his body will decide. If he has his way, the 2023 ODI World Cup – in the event Ireland find a way to the final 10 – is on the radar. Between times, there are a couple of T20 World Cups. "If I can go for a couple more years then it would be a fitting end," he said.

Or maybe it will end in an instant – a possibility at this stage. Maybe this final match of the series will also be his last hurrah against the old enemy. If so, nobody should be surprised if Tuesday was the day – and O’Brien was the reason – that they knocked them off again.

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