Ireland’s first-ever Test century has given the minnow nation the chance to achieve something only ever seen three times in 141 years of cricket.
Kevin O’Brien has given Ireland a fighting chance to win their inaugural Test match with a stunning century against Pakistan.
His unbeaten 118 helped open up a 139-run lead heading into the final day in Dublin.
Hours earlier on day four, the Irish faced the prospect of an innings defeat but they lost only three wickets in the final two sessions to reach stumps on 7-319 in their second innings after following on.
Even a draw would be a marvellous achievement for a country which was awarded Test status only last June.
O’Brien became the first player to score a Test century for Ireland and he was there at the close, with his 114-run partnership with Stuart Thompson (53) for the seventh wicket proving decisive.
Resuming their second innings on 0-64 after being asked to follow on and still needing 116 more runs to make Pakistan bat again, Ireland had slumped to 4-123 by lunch.
When Mohammed Amir removed Gary Wilson (12), caught by Haris Sohail in the slips, and Paul Stirling (11) was trapped lbw by Mohammad Abbas, Pakistan looked to be set for a comfortable victory.
But O’Brien’s circumspect batting – his 118 has come from 216 balls and contained 12 fours – means the Irish have a real shot at becoming only the fourth side in the 141-year history of men’s Test cricket to win after following-on.
O’Brien believes his latest hundred can be the springboard for a dramatic Ireland success just as his last one set up a stunning World Cup victory over England seven years ago.
O’Brien performed similar heroics in Bangalore in 2011 when Ireland found themselves 111 for five in response to England’s 327.
His 50-ball ton that day, still the fastest in World Cup history, guided Ireland to a famous victory and O’Brien is hoping his latest century can inspire another.
“It’s a very proud and emotional moment,” he said. “To get there, it’s a great honour. Hopefully now we’ve put ourselves in a good position to try and go ahead and win it. There’s no reason why we can’t, we’ve just got to try and start off well tomorrow and try and get as many runs as we can.
“If we get a crack at them, try and get them a couple down early and see where we go. I still think for me (the century in) Bangalore is definitely number one, just for the sheer moment it was and against who it was, in the World Cup.
“If I can continue on tomorrow for another hour and a half, that 118 changes to 170-odd, this could top it.”
There were nervous moments in the 90s for O’Brien to endure as a four scored when he was on 97 was correctly deemed as leg byes.
With O’Brien one shy, Pakistan brought on Mohammad Amir, who had already accounted for Irish captain William Porterfield, O’Brien’s brother Niall and Gary Wilson to reach 100 Test wickets.
“The leg byes, I knew it hit my leg obviously,” Kevin O’Brien explained. “The crowd were going mad and I was running past Tyrone (Kane) going, ‘Bloody leg byes!’
“Obviously they bring on their strike bowler, I was hoping there was one more over from Shadab (Khan) because I was fairly comfortable against him.
“They sniffed an opportunity to try and get me out on 99 and fortunately another thick edge went past the fielder and I got two runs.
“It was just relief, really. Emotional – first Test and all that. Just a great honour to join a fairly small list of players that have done it.
“My mum and dad don’t miss a game and my wife was there as well, and obviously Niall’s in the side. I’m very proud.
“I’ve got about 85 WhatsApps from the family group so it will take me a couple of hours to read through them!”
Some over-cautious and frankly odd field placements did allow O’Brien and Thompson to comfortably chip away at Pakistan’s lead and then build their own.
“I think credit should be given to the Irish players for the way they came back,” Pakistan opener Azhar Ali said.
“They batted really well, they’ve been challenged with a good bowling side but especially Kevin O’Brien, the way he played a composed knock after Ireland lost five or six wickets – he kept going and he took the other players with him.
“Credit should be given to the Irish players for the way they handled the pressure.”