Australia lose a veteran of 42 Tests March 3, 2008

Norm O'Neill dies aged 71

Cricinfo staff

Norm O'Neill sweeping on his way to 82 during the first Test of the 1961 Ashes © Playfair Cricket Monthly
Norm O'Neill, the middle-order batsman who played 42 Tests for Australia during the 1950s and 1960s, has died at the age of 71. O'Neill scored 2779 Test runs at 45.55 but he will perhaps be best remembered as the man who made 181 in the tied Test against West Indies in Brisbane in 1960-61.

A broad-shouldered, back-foot player of immense power, O'Neill was unfairly labelled "the new Bradman" early in his career. His international days began well and after the memorable Gabba tie he was averaging 67.68 from 14 Tests.

Brisbane was a productive venue for him - he made his Test debut there in 1958-59 and scored an unbeaten 71 against England that guided Australia to victory and in the words of Wisden was a brilliant piece of batsmanship that "saved a game that had been torturous for days". He finished that Ashes series with 282 runs at 56 and further fame was to follow him on his first tour.

The team visited Pakistan and India in 1959-60, where O'Neill scored three of his six Test centuries. A Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1962, he remained a valuable player after that but could not keep producing runs at such a high level and was discarded from the national team at the age of 28.

He was not helped at the selection table by a tendency to get out attempting rash strokes early in his innings as he was always a nervous starter. "We used to tell him: 'Those blokes out there are more scared of you than you are of them'," his former team-mate Alan Davidson told AAP. "But it didn't make any difference."

However, once O'Neill was set he was a sight to behold. According to Wisden, he used "a larger variety of strokes off the back foot than any other batsman", which was not surprising given that he idolised Keith Miller during his early days. Davidson batted with O'Neill during his 181 at the Gabba and described him as charismatic, yet modest and humble.

"He was the most exhilarating player you'd ever want to see - he was dynamite," Davidson told AAP. "He'd play attacking shots off balls that other people could only think of defending. He had wonderful skill and technique. His shots off the back foot down the ground off fast bowlers, you can't really describe how good they were."

A New South Wales player from the age of 18, O'Neill played 70 first-class games for the state and scored 5419 runs at 52.61. His complete first-class career consisted of 188 matches for 13,859 runs at 50.95. A handy legspin bowler, O'Neill collected 17 Test wickets at 39.23 and 99 in first-class games at 41.01. He also possessed a bullet-like throwing arm, which was one of the reasons he attracted attention from American baseball scouts.

Creagh O'Connor, Cricket Australia's chairman, said O'Neill was a joy to watch. "I had the good fortune to see his last Test century, an even 100 against England in the fourth Test of the 1962-3 series, and remember him as the type of player who, at his best, won the hearts of the public through the way he played," O'Connor said. "He was great to watch when he was batting but he was also a magnificent fielder in the covers."