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Niall O’Brien column: Kev needs to keep his record

Niall O'Brien column

There’s been a lot of talk in the build-up to this World Cup about this new exciting brand of One-Day cricket and how totals now of 450, not 250, would be needed to ensure victory in this day and age.

As it stands, however, the world record for the fastest World Cup hundred still remains proudly in the O’Brien family after my brother Kevin’s 50-ball century against England in 2011.

Looking at the batting talent on view this summer, it’s fair to say Kevin’s record could well be under threat but we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that the name of O’Brien, and indeed Ireland Cricket, is still etched in World Cup folklore come July 14.

I’ve taken in a few World Cup warm-up matches this week and I have to say the tournament is shaping up nicely with a number of sides more than capable of lifting the trophy on their given day.

Kevin O'Brien

As the host nation, I still have England as favourites but not as clear-cut as I thought previously. That’s not owing to their form, they’ve been outstanding and pretty ruthless in the build-up to this tournament.

Jason Roy has hit form at just the right time and in the likes of opening partner Jonny Bairstow, captain Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler, England have destructive batsmen capable of out-scoring anyone on their day.

Indeed, when you see the likes of Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid coming in at No.11, you get some idea of the batting power that England possess.

The reason for doubting the strength of England’s  favouritism is more due to the form of their rivals.

Australia, in particular, look very strong. The return of Steve Smith and David Warner appears to have given them a huge boost and suddenly they look a different proposition from the one-day side of 12 – or even six – months ago.

I take England and Australia to comfortably take two of the semi-final slots, while a dogfight of up to six sides could contest the other two.

India are a threat, as always. An ultra-powerful top three in Dhawan, Sharwan and Kohli, and big-game players throughout the side, but I question whether they have the consistency in the middle order to dig deep when the chips are down. MS Dhoni may be 37 now, but he remains a vital player for them.

Virat Kohli’s side conspired to lose a home series with Australia from 2-0 up and that will be a concern. For me, they have work to do.

New Zealand are another side capable of making the final four, but I question whether they have that X-factor player in their batting line-up to see them beyond totals of 350.

In Chris Gayle, the West Indies don’t really have that problem. This is his swansong and, in full flow, there is no-one feared more. I wonder with them, however, whether they have the bowling attack to limit sides to gettable totals.

One side I have been keeping a close eye on this week in Afghanistan, and I think they could surprise a few.

Yes, they were very poor in their nine-wicket thrashing by England on Monday but therein lies the problem for Phil Simmonds’ men, who were excellent in beating               Pakistan just three days previous.

The Afghans will be looking to make best use of a turning wicket and that could just be their saving grace. In Rashid Khan, they have one of the best one-day spinners in world cricket and playing at Cardiff could well be the key.

They play there twice in the group stages and I think they could just surprise a few.

NIALL O’BRIEN / Photo: Getty Images

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