One of the primary reasons sports have remained popular for centuries is that it gives a chance to rekindle rivalries repeatedly. The nature of sports manages to keep the competition between rivals just about fair while reigniting historical discord for a brief period.
The age-old dissension between Ireland and England has been known to all, with the Irishmen challenging the English quite ably in sports like football, rugby and others. However, not even the most ardent cricket lover would have fancied the Green and Whites to beat England in a sport that was essentially born in England.
In the 2011 ODI World Cup, Ireland was paired as underdogs alongside South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh, England and the Netherlands in Group A. They were supposed to face England in their second group match on March 2, 2011.
For obvious reasons, no one had given Ireland a chance ahead of this clash. Not only had they started their campaign with a 27-run defeat against Bangladesh, but they were also facing an uber-confident English side, who had chased down 320 runs to tie a match against hosts India on their soil.
Batting first, the English batters were brimming with confidence, with three players scoring fifty-plus scores. Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell's 112-run stand for the fourth wicket built the foundation as England put up a mammoth target of 328.
Despite Bangalore's M Chinnaswamy stadium being a batting pitch with shorter boundaries, Ireland still needed a miracle to pull something exceptional. And to think that the miracle wouldn't even start until the Irishmen were five wickets down by the 25th over is utterly unimaginable.
It was after the dismissal of Gary Wilson, who had managed just three runs off 14 balls, that a burly Kevin Joseph O'Brien would enter the ground. Ironically, O'Brien had dyed his hair pink to promote an Irish cancer charity for that match. His pink streaks got the crowd cheering on a dazzling night and acted as a piercing flashlight to the heavens as if to get the Gods' attention.
What followed was an absolute massacre. O'Brien scored the then-fastest century in an ODI World Cup (in 50 balls), forged a 162-run stand with Alex Cusack, and brought Ireland from the throes of defeat to the verge of an epic win.
The innings that shocked the world 🤯— ICC Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) March 2, 2021
Kevin O’Brien’s record fastest World Cup century vs England.#CWC11Rewind pic.twitter.com/yDI0bs4xoU
When O'Brien had come out to bat, Ireland were struggling 111/5. By the time he left following an unfortunate run-out, Ireland were riding high on 317/7 with 11 needed off 11 balls.
Looking back at the innings, O'Brien had said, "‘I'm not that deep a thinker of much in general. I don't know if I believe in the zone or that type of thing. Everything I went to hit came somewhere close to the middle of the bat. It was just one of those things where everything clicked for us as a team and me personally on that day."
It was a roller coaster of emotions for English skipper Andrew Strauss. Three days after playing the match of his life, where his unbelievable 158-run knock had helped England tie an impossible match with India, losing to arch-rivals Ireland had left a bitter taste for Strauss.
"That was bitterly disappointing," Andrew Strauss had said after the match. "It was a great performance by Ireland; they thoroughly deserved their victory. We did not reckon on such outstanding innings. That was pretty brutal hitting. We will just have to go away and lick our wounds."