Bill O'Reilly

The Tiger's last hurrah

Bill O'Reilly's last interview

Only a month before he died in 1992, Tiger O'Reilly gave what turned out to be his final, and typically forthright, interview, to Wayne Smith

The Tiger prepares to pounce © Cricinfo
In your first Test match, you would have seen Clarrie Grimmett take 14 wickets?
Yes, he was a great slow bowler, but slow is an adjective that covers a pretty vast field. He was much faster than these boys who are bowling now, like young Matthews. He was about the same speed as Benaud. Of course, they never regarded me as slow at all - I was medium slow. I ran 13 paces, Grimmett ran about four.

After playing only three first-class games at the end of 1927, you did not appear again in a first-class match until nearly four years later.
I was then attached to the Education Department as a schoolteacher, and having had about three or four days leave playing cricket, the Department kicked me out to the scrub. I spent three years in isolation in the bush, and I missed Chapman's team out here in 1928-29 and the Australian trip to England in 1930. I also missed the West Indies tour and the first part of the South African trip out here. When I came back from the bush at the end of 1930, I almost straight went into the Australian team.

It must have been rather frustrating for you to be out of the limelight during that period?
It was frustrating - that is a good word to use, but there were other things that compensated, of course, because only in the bush have I made thousands of friends that I still have and whom the Boss upstairs hasn't claimed so far. I enjoyed every moment of it and met people who are friends of mine still. When I went in to become a teacher, I contracted to go wherever they wanted to send me.

Was your googly slightly slower than your legbreak?
Yes, it was quite a bit slower, but I hid the reason for it, and this was the substance or the basis of the success of the whole thing in that I was able to disguise the pace of it. It was very much slower, indeed, and it bounced higher. You know, there is a lot of jargon, and to put into plain Australian so-called English, there is so much bull written about what it is exactly that bowlers do, like "making the ball drop" or "making pace off the pitch". These things don't happen, they happen only up in the press box, you know.

Wilfred Rhodes used to say that if the batsman thinks the ball is spinning, then it's spinning.
Exactly, and that's all you need do. My opinion is this: coaches are the biggest curse that the game has got. They spoil more kids than ever they help. If you get a talented boy, say 10, 11 or 12, who knows what he is doing - and you can pick it straightaway from a mile off whether a kid has got it or not - tell him that the ball that is spinning in the air clockwise will swing away from the bat, it will go the other way in the air before it hits the ground. It is impossible to throw a new ball straight with its seam because the seam will make it move. Now if you can control swing by knowing that the offspinner is an outswinger and a legspinner is an inswinger - well you can tell that to a boy and say, "Spend an extra half hour on the dunny each day and make yourself into a good bowler. Think about it."

When you bowled to Hammond, how often would you throw the googly to him?
Oh, maybe twice an over. There was an old saying that you only bowled your bosey occasionally and kept it more or less as a secret weapon. That never entered my head. If I thought that I should bowl the bosey five times an over, I bowled it, because it depended entirely on the bloke I was bowling at. The thing that I was keen to see about a batsman was how quick he was on his feet and how good his eyes were to pick up where the point of contact had to be. If he made his mind up that the point of contact was to be a certain spot, then it was your job to make the ball fall short of that spot or to get to that spot quicker than he thought, and therefore you would have spoiled his shot altogether. I once bowled at Frank Woolley in a Test match - and he was one of England's greatest players - and I got him out about the fourth ball, I think. I got him caught at short square-leg by Stan McCabe. I met Woolley about a fortnight later, and at about this time he was getting towards the end of his career, and he said to me, "Bill, they put me in that fifth Test with the one job, which was to hit you out of the game." I said, "I knew it, Frank, because the England journalists have been saying that I am no good against left-handers, and so when you came in, I think you only got two runs..." He said, "Yes, and do you know what? They didn't even tell me that you bowled a wrong'un!" He hit a little dolly catch up in the air to square leg.

So you see, it doesn't matter how long or how well a player goes, It's up to a bowler to be able to force him into doing something he doesn't intend to do, and that is, in fact, getting to his proposed point of contact quicker than he thought he would.

You are talking now about one of the most gifted players that I ever saw in my life. He played the three greatest innings that I ever saw

O'Reilly on Stan McCabe

I never saw Stan McCabe bat, so I have to rely on some film I have of him during his 232 at Nottingham. Did you ever bowl to him?
s Only once, I think. It was in a club game and he made a hundred. I bowled the same to him as I did to everyone else. We were great mates. We had known each other since we were kids. You are talking now about one of the most gifted players that I ever saw in my life. He played the three greatest innings that I ever saw. One in Sydney here, 187; one in Johannesburg, 189; and of course the 232 at Trent Bridge. When I was batting with him at Trent Bridge - I wasn't there very long - a new ball came on, and about the second or third delivery Stan turned and just quietly pushed it over the square-leg boundary for six. The bowler was Ken Farnes, and as he came up the wicket he said, "What in the name of God can you do with a man like that, Bill?"

He sounds like a wonderful player. Surely, one of the five great Australian batsmen along with Trumper, Macartney, Bradman and Ponsford?
Yes, you would have the five. I would put Bradman first. That is the only thing that I am prepared to concede to him. He was the greatest player who ever walked onto a cricket field. He was the man who could handle almost every situation bar the one where the ball bounced up round about his head. He wouldn't have that on at all. He ran away from that. But the rest of it - he was absolutely a born wizard.

What was Ponsford like against fast bowling?
Ponsford got hit a few times, but he was a very brave bloke. He took it, just like his mate Bill Woodfull, who was probably the bravest man I ever saw on a cricket field. Woodfull batted right through that second innings at Adelaide in 1932-33 when the whole situation blew up for 70-odd not out, and I put that down as far and away the most courageous thing I have ever seen on a cricket field.

In the second Test of that Bodyline series, you took ten wickets in the match, and in the second innings you bowled the great Herbert Sutcliffe with one of the best deliveries of your career.
Yes, it was a legbreak which was bowled at a fairly, good, solid pace, and it was bowled on his leg stump and hit the top of his off stump. There is a photograph of him stretched right out trying to play the ball, which means, of course, that I tricked him at the point of contact. It was not very often that you could get a bloke like Sutcliffe to move his feet wrongly because he was used to going in against the new ball. But that time, of course, he picked the wrong place and he finished leaning right foward, almost off balance, and that ball beat his bat and hit the stumps.

Dean Jones. I reckon that he wouldn't have survived one over, and if he did, I reckon I would have regarded it as a disturbing event that I would have had to sit down and worry about. He is absolutely not worth a bumper, but he still gets runs

Another memorable occasion at the SCG happened in early 1985 when Bennett and Holland bowled out the allegedly invincible West Indians?
I remember it well. They did all that was required of them, but the most significant thing about that afternoon is that they got Richards twice. He was renowned as the greatest player of the day, and they did him twice when he was not able to realise where the ball was going to land.

How do you think Grimmett and O'Reilly would have fared against West Indies that day?
I have no idea, but I'll tell you what. I would have loved to have had a go at a few of the players who are playing now and doing well. For instance, one Australian: Dean Jones. I reckon that he wouldn't have survived one over, and if he did, I reckon I would have regarded it as a disturbing event that I would have had to sit down and worry about. He stands wrongly, his weight is distributed between his feet, which are about a yard apart, and he holds the bat right down at the bottom, and he leans on it like the old ploughsman winding his weary way home. He is absolutely not worth a bumper, but he still gets runs, and the only reason, of course, is that they are no spinners now.