Chris Rattue: Smile makes O'Brien the likeable one

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He's neither the king of swing nor the ace of pace.

When Iain O'Brien tears in to bowl, rather than trembling in fear, the world's greatest batsmen might even consider the smallest of smiles.

O'Brien is an everyman cricketer whose total sum is outdoing the parts.

This is a bloke whom we can all happily root for, and not only because he is building a wee stash of test wickets at a respectable average.

O'Brien was at it again in Napier, with a coveted six-wicket bag hitting the headlines, although the fine print should point out that the majority of the wickets involved cutting off a useless West Indian tail.

We should treasure O'Brien, a charming character with a decent handle on life.

O'Brien can bowl a pearler of a delivery, as in the one that bamboozled the West Indian captain Chris Gayle. His forte is hitting the spot and getting the ball to zing off a length, which is exactly what put Gayle in his place.

But there's more to O'Brien than what greets opposing batsmen.

It's that infectious grin at the corner of his mouth and an open nature that draw you in.

They are such a breath of fresh air in a world of sport where the mumbling of the precocious and the precious dominate.

He broke all the rules yesterday morning, giving a passably interesting interview to Sky before play resumed on the third day. His daily test match blogs have become required reading.

So why should we like Iain O'Brien so much? Here goes ...

Because he has a competitive edge with a smile in the middle.

Because more than anything he appears eternally happy with his lot and clearly loves playing sport for playing's sake.

Because he makes the utmost of his ability which, compared to some of the flamboyant flakes around him, isn't overly great.

Because he told us he enjoyed an evening drink with his dad after a day's play, without it sounding like the usual corny line.

Because having arrived as a test player in his 30s, he has proven yet again that the best way of preparing many test cricketers is to make them claw their way up the hard way.

Because test cricket has become so acrimonious, on and off the field, that it is crying out for players who can put a smile on people's faces.

Because he's an inspiration in the instant society - a man who, unlike a few others we could mention, waited for his chance with good grace.

And he's got the common touch all right, because, despite wearing space-age pads, his inability to bat is legendary and a lot of us can relate to that.

Iain O'Brien is a late bloomer. Long may he continue to bowl us, and the opposition, over.

- NZ Herald

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