Ireland will be looking to put the disappointment of the failed 50-overs World Cup Qualifiers behind them as they begin their quest to reach the T20 World Cup in Scotland this morning.

There are two spots available in the seven team competition, with the hosts and Ireland clear favourites, but there are potential pitfalls awaiting Heinrich Malan’s side, starting with Italy, who have a very familiar face in their coaching ranks.

Kevin O’Brien – with 389 appearances, Ireland’s most-capped player – is assistant coach to Gareth Berg, and there are few people with better knowledge of Irish cricket having spent 16 years in the home dressing room.

How did KOB end up with Italy?

“It all started about four years ago when I went to do some coaching at a club in Milan who had an e-YMCA player there, and was introduced to incoming President Fabio Marabini. We kept in touch and in November 2021 I went over and did some sessions and it snowballed from there. Last year I was with them on tours to Uganda, Finland and Jersey. It was great to get some experience of different international teams and conditions.”

Northants Gareth Berg is the player/coach of Italy and O’Brien is enjoying working with the all-rounder.

“I take as much coaching responsibility away from Gareth to allow him to prepare to play properly, ease the burden if you like. We work very well together, and he is a good sounding board for me. We have enjoyed a very positive and successful 18-months together, so hopefully that can continue during the qualifiers.”

The Italians have assembled a very strong squad and hopes are high they can upset the ‘big two’ and grab one of the coveted qualification berths.

“Andy Northcote, who played many years for Italy, is here on the coaching staff, and he reckons it’s the strongest Italian side ever. You have Gareth Berg leading from the front with his experience. Wayne Madsen of Derbyshire – who misses the Ireland game unfortunately. Grant Stewart of Kent, Ben Manenti, who has won the Big Bash twice, plus his younger brother Harry. The Mosca brothers, who have been a great find for Italian cricket, as they are so passionate and talented.

“On paper we have a very talented team, but we obviously have to play well. We have prepared well, having spent a week in Horsham. We are raring to go and hopefully can get a win to start against Ireland.”

With Ireland’s confidence low, did he feel this was a good time to play Ireland?

“That’s a tricky one. They have a new captain and will be looking for a fresh start after what happened. For us, playing a Test nation is a great chance for us to see where we are at. They might have a few guys dragging their heels after failing to qualify, so maybe it is a perfect time to play them. We know T20 cricket and how it works, so if one or two of our guys do really well, then maybe we can turn them over. It’s going to be a tough tournament with everyone capable of beating the other.”

It’s going to be an interesting feeling for O’Brien coming up against an Ireland side that he represented for so long. Will he have any mixed emotions?

“No, I’m a professional and employed by Italian cricket. It helps them that I know pretty much all the players in the Irish squad fairly well. I know how they think when they are under pressure, I know their go-to balls and fields when they have the ball in their hands. I know the batters strengths, weaknesses and their match-ups against certain types of bowlers. I’ve relayed all that inside knowledge onto the squad, so it’s up now to the players to take that on board and hopefully take advantage of it.”

Would there be an element of revenge in his mind after the way his career ended in the green shirt?

“No, for me it’s just the first game of an important tournament, so a win from that perspective would be great, but I’d be only as happy as if it was against Germany. My job now is to go out and try and help prepare the team to the best of my ability, regardless of the opposition. It should be a good game between two talented teams.”

Ireland take on Italy on Thursday morning (10:30am).