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The greatest cricketers of all time - No. 20

Modified 06 Jan 2015, 11:54 IST

Who is the greatest cricketer of all time? We know you’ve had this argument with your friends hundreds of times, and we also know that these arguments haven’t always ended on non-violent terms. So we’re here to make things simpler (or possibly, make them considerably more complicated). Starting today, Sportskeeda is going to announce a list of the 20 greatest cricketers of all time. And yes, we’re prepared to take both the bouquets and the rotten tomatoes.

No. 20 – Bill O’Reilly

If you were asked to describe a cricketer who was nicknamed ‘Tiger’, what would come to your mind? A stylish middle order batsman from the subcontinent whose stroke-play was as princely as his blood? A broad-chested Pakistani pacer with an open action who could bowl forty overs per day for five days consistently at 90 mph? Or maybe, a young blood Bangladeshi batsman whose batting is as audacious as his antics?

What you’d probably never think of associating with the nickname ‘Tiger’ is a balding Australian leg spinner from the pre-World War II era. Even if he was a 6 ft. 3 in. truculent rebel with a cause.

But that was what Bill O’ Reilly really was, and he justified his nickname in every sense of the term. He would get no better endorsement than from the Great Don himself who claimed that he was the “greatest bowler that I ever faced or saw”.  Tiger returned the favour by declaring Bradman as the greatest of batsmen but stopped short of conferring the status of legend on him probably because he felt that he was not a team man.

It is probably for this frankness of attitude that Tiger was always considered the perennial outsider. In any case, a boy from the bush town of Booligal was not expected to be in the Australian team in the first place. But then again, you simply cannot ignore someone who bowls out Don Bradman with his first ball only a few days after Bradman has scored 234 not out for his country side Bowral.

The cat and mouse game had just began – when O’Reilly finally broke into the Australian Test team, he realized that, in a team of players of Protestant English descent, an Irish Catholic would always be an outsider, and anything short of unquestioned acceptance of this fact would be considered as insubordination – which, given Tiger’s nature, was inevitable.

But he did not bring his troubles on to the playing field; what he brought was his cumulative dislike for administration, batsmen and “humbug” spin bowling.  Contrary to his Catholic upbringing, he defied all that was orthodox for a leg spin bowler – he bowled with a longish run up, bent his right knee at the point of delivery and delivered with a grip that no coaching manual would teach you. It was that grip that made the ball grip the pitch and bounce, making the googly a potent weapon in his armour. In his four Ashes series, he would go on to take more than 20 wickets in each of them, taunting the English with his mastery of his art and their inability to comprehend it. It is an Ashes record which still stands to date. Even when Len Hutton made 364 at the Oval in 1938, Tiger sent down 85 overs for only 178 runs and 3 wickets.

Clarrie Grimmett was his hunting partner; the two formed a pair which was as deadly as the pace bowling pairs of the future Australian and West Indian teams. Both would go on to average five wickets per Test each – something which very few bowlers have managed to achieve in the 135 years of Test cricket. O’Reilly’s bowling average was 22.59 on pitches designed for timeless Test matches. And all this at a time when Australia’s pace attack was a shadow of what it would be 30 years down the line. Even in the controversial 1932-33 Bodyline series where cricket was the last thing on everyone’s minds, he eventually ended up with 27 wickets.


After ending a career of almost 20 years at the highest level in 1946 against New Zealand, Tiger would go on to be a sports journalist, writing for the Test Column of the Sydney Morning Herald. With his intimidating manner and style of spin which was anything but gentle, Tiger would have also been a shoo-in for any limited overs Aussie team. However, his distaste for the one day format is well documented in his comments on Kerry Packer’s “pyjama cricket” – a term he is believed to have originated along with “hit and giggle.”

Tiger was a big man with a big googly and a bigger heart. The only Aussie spin bowler who can hold a candle to Tiger’s legacy is Shane Warne. It would have been a sight for sore eyes to behold – two vitriolic leggies on a fifth day SCG wicket against the clueless Poms. Given the bare cupboards of spin bowling in Australia today, it can almost be said with certainty that the selectors would have given a spinning finger or two to have Tiger back in the Test scheme of things.

Check out all the players in this list here:

The greatest cricketers of all time

Published 01 May 2012, 17:19 IST
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