NZ pace bowler in midst of career year

01:43, Jan 31 2009

If you glance down the list of the world's leading test wicket-takers in 2008 you'll come across an unexpected name.

At 16th on the list is Iain Edward O'Brien and if you look closer a staggering statistic appears.

The 32 year-old Wellington seam bowler has the second best average on the world's best list with 27 wickets at 18.44. The only man above him is another hard worker, South African speedster Dale Steyn, who tops the wickets and the average with 59 scalps at 18 apiece.

"When I heard that the other day from the manager I thought that's pretty cool," O'Brien said before heading out for a round at gold at Sanctuary Cove.

His company that afternoon on the golf course comprised Sir Richard Hadlee, Brendon McCullum, match referee Chris Broad and umpire Rudi Koertzen.

A couple of years ago the man known as "Obber" would have been lucky to carry their bag, now after a fine year with the hard red ball he is comfortable enough to preside in their company with his handicap of 16.

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O'Brien is living his dream. He used to be schoolteacher but bowls such a good line and length that selectors like him and batsmen find him hard to play.

O'Brien's career has been anything but straightforward. In fact his life is anything but straightforward. He has an English wife Rosie, who he only sees occasionally because she lives in Derbyshire and he in Lower Hutt.

Not that O'Brien could ever be accused of not making the effort to see her.

After the second test against Bangladesh in Dhaka last month O'Brien embarked on a six day travel schedule that would excite film producers.

He started in Dhaka, from there, it was a five-hour flight to Dubai and an eight-hour wait for an eight-hour flight to Birmingham. Then he caught a train to Matlock for his "holiday," where he quickly noticed the difference between the 38-degree heat he had been bowling in and sub-zero temperature of October in Derbyshire.

Next, it was off to London for a flight to Auckland and then on to Wellington, to prepare for two tests against the Aussies, at the Gabba, in Brisbane last week and the Adelaide Oval, starting today.

O'Brien shakes his head at how his career has unfolded. He looked like being a two test wonder after he took a toweling from the Aussies in 2005, finishing with two wickets at a cost of 98.

But last year he got a recall against South Africa and just as he was about to blow it and be a four test wonder he turned his bowling around on the third morning of a Test in Pretoria.

"I was okay in the first test at the Wanderers but in the second test at Pretoria I had a really, really bad afternoon on day two," O'Brien said.

"I bowled the worst spell of my life and (Jacques) Kallis and (Hashim) Amla look me to pieces.

"I went out the next morning, had a quiet chat to Gary Hermansson (psychologist)  and Dayle Hadlee (bowling coach) and we came up with two things to work on that day and they are still the two things that are going for me.

"One is just a relaxation thing where I take big breaths walking back to my mark and the other one is just an action thing when I'm running in. Bowling becomes easy when you have no bad things to think about.

"That was a career day that second test, I had two tests against Australia, then got called back in against South Africa and was getting pumped. That was career day. If I had gone out and not bowled better on day three that would have been it."

O'Brien is a demanding bowler with a knack of taking wickets. He had a match analysis of 4-102 at the Gabba, his victims being Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson.

"I look at Chris Martin, we bowled against each other in a provincial match at the Basin one day and he out-bowled me in the match but he took eight wickets and I took 13.

"I think I dish up a few balls that batters think they can jump on and I get some weird dismissals at strange times. I think batters think I'm hittable. Ponting the other day wanted to get on top of me, I seem to be a bit more hittable."

O'Brien looks fit, though he claims tours to England, India, Bangladesh and Australia in the last six months do take their toll. But he likes hard work and is eyeing a county deal in England according to a report in Derbyshire.

"This time, I'm hoping to find a county deal," he told the local newspaper. ''It would certainly mean I wouldn't have to find a proper job!"

FACT FILE
Name: Iain O'Brien
Age: 32
Province: Wellington
Skill: Fast-medium bowler
Record:
Tests: 11 - 32 wickets at 27.71, best 4-74
First class matches 64 - 229 wickets at 24.95, best 8-55
Miscellaneous: www.iainobrien.blogspot.com

Fairfax Media