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Ireland’s test of character leaves Kevin O’Brien confident they can compete | Andy Bull

Century-maker proud of team’s grit in first five-dayer against Pakistan but says new blood is needed to cement progress

The O’Brien boys used to play at the Ashes in the back garden. During the summer they would stage long one-on-one Test matches, each always taking the same part. Back then Niall was a batsman whose hero was Steve Waugh, so he would be Australia, and Kevin was a bowler who idolised Darren Gough, so he’d be England. “That’s where I learned the game, in the back garden with Nialler,” Kevin says. “Toughest cricket I ever played.” It never occurred to them to pick Ireland even though their father played 50 games for the national team. “Honestly, I never believed Ireland would ever play Test cricket,” Kevin says. “Not in my career.”

Last Sunday afternoon Ireland were doing exactly that. It was the third day of their first Test match, against Pakistan at Malahide and the dream had suddenly become a nightmare. They were seven for four, 300 runs behind and belly up. What’s worse is that it was happening on the same day Cricket Ireland had picked for their big party. They had invited every living cricketer who had played for Ireland along to watch. Eighty came. “Which added to the pressure,” Kevin says, “because we knew they were living and breathing every ball along with us.”

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