One innings from the past came repeatedly to mind today as Kevin O'Brien blazed Ireland to victory in Bangalore: Test match number 1594, 16 March 2002, England v New Zealand at Christchurch, Nathan Astle c Foster b Hoggard 222.
Like O'Brien's, Astle's was an innings that began with a team so deep in the mire that only the tops of their heads were visible. Set 550 to win, he came to the wicket with New Zealand at 119-3. Even though he put on 50 with each of the next three batters, the seventh wicket fell at 300, and the ninth at 333, still 217 short. When Astle finally got out, having hit 28 fours and 11 sixes, New Zealand needed just 99 more to win, and there wasn't a person watching or playing who hadn't started to think that he might get them. It was hurricane force batting, an outlier of an innings.
That feeling of creeping dread overcoming well-established complacency was repeated as O'Brien swung for the fences today. Astle recorded the quickest Test match double hundred of all time, O'Brien the fastest World Cup hundred. England survived Astle, but not O'Brien.
Astle actually went from 100 to 200 in 39 balls on that day in Christchurch. A four over spell of carnage cost England 61 runs, despite one of the overs being a wicket maiden. As Wisden noted, 'a cricket ball has rarely been hit so cleanly, so often'.
Subsequently, it probably has been. In Astle's wake came triple hundreds of sustained violence from Chris Gayle and Virender Sehwag. Then came T20, with its redefinition of the possible. O'Brien is a young guy who has been witness to a much broader horizon than many of the great players he blasted past today. In a way, he was able to bat like he did because T20 cricket has made it less remarkable. His 50-ball record may not even survive this tournament.
None of which is meant to diminish his achievement. England were complacent and bowled and fielded badly, but O'Brien won the game rather than England losing it. We may come to look back on it, as we do on Astle's, as a moment when the future arrived.
The case for Matt Renshaw
1 week ago