Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly: 10 things to know about ‘the greatest bowler’ Don Bradman ever faced

William Joseph ‘Bill’ O’Reilly, born December 20, 1905, and also known as Tiger was an Australian leg-spinner and contemporary of Don Bradman. Widely regarded as one of the greatest leg-spinners of all time, O’Reilly was also a celebrated journalist after his playing days. On his birth anniversary of his birth, Shiamak Unwalla looks at 10 interesting things to know about the man who Don Bradman called the “greatest bowler” he had ever faced.

1. Irish blood

O’Reilly was the son of Irish immigrants, and played cricket with his older brothers as a child. Little Bill was often made to bowl while his brothers batted on. It proved to be for the best. O’Reilly’s Irish ancestry meant he was a staunch catholic. This played a role in his eventual clash with the Protestant Don Bradman.

2. The fast-bowling spinner

Tiger was a leg-spinner but he had the heart of a fast bowler. His run-up and action were reminiscent of pace bowlers of yore, and he even bowled at what could be called a medium-pace. Despite this, he was immensely accurate and possessed every trick in the leg-spinners’ manual. It was said that Tiger was as mean as a fast bowler, and rarely commended batsmen on a good shot.

3. First clash with The Don

Though they would eventually go on to be teammates, Tiger and The Don were never the best of friends. However, before they even knew of each other, they met in a festive match between their respective towns. It was in 1925-26, and O’Reilly was studying in Sydney University to be a teacher. While passing through Bowral (Bradman’s hometown) on his way home to Wingello, O’Reilly met his townsfolk who were there to play a festival match. Bradman ended up scoring 234 before being dismissed by O’Reilly.

4. Almost an early retirement

Despite getting off to an excellent start in Test cricket, O’Reilly announced a shock retirement just two years into his career in order to support his wife and daughter with a steady teaching job. Luckily for him and for Australian cricket, O’Reilly was employed by the Sydney Grammar School, which allowed him to continue his Test career.

5. Actual retirement

O’Reilly’s career finally ended just after the Second World War, which robbed him of what would have been a much longer career than 27 Tests. He played his final Test in 1946 against New Zealand, aged 40. He showed that he still had it though, finishing with 8 for 33 in the match including five wickets in the first innings. He celebrated his retirement in unique fashion, tossing his boots out the window of the dressing room.

6. Staggering numbers

O’Reilly has fantastic statistics in Test cricket. In the 27 matches he played he took 144 wickets at a fantastic average of 22.59 with 11 five-wicket hauls and three 10-fors. He was miserly as well, going for a mere 1.94 runs per over. This was in an era when batting was not particularly challenging either.

Among all spinners with at least 100 Test wickets, O’Reilly ranks seventh in terms of bowling average. However, the likes of Bobby Peel, Johnny Briggs, and Colin Blythe, who lead the pack, played on uncovered pitches which were often treacherous for batting. Among contemporary (for that era) bowlers, only Johnny Wardle and Jim Laker — both of whom started playing after O’Reilly’s career ended — have better averages.

7. Tiger and Jack vs The Don

As mentioned earlier, O’Reilly and Bradman did not enjoy a harmonious relationship. Likewise, Jack Fingleton too clashed with Bradman often. After his playing days, Fingleton became a journalist. O’Reilly too joined in his footsteps. Both Fingleton and O’Reilly were Catholics, and were at odds with Bradman, who was a Protestant. It was said that when Bradman was out for a duck in his famous last innings, both O’Reilly and Fingleton burst out laughing.

8. The Teacher

O’Reilly played in the days when cricketers did not earn substantial sums of money. His real profession was teaching, but he was able to have a cricketing career after the Sydney Grammar School allowed him to play cricket while keeping his teaching job.

9. Sought-after player

O’Reilly’s skill was almost unmatched, and this could be seen in the fact that he was picked to play for Victor Richardson’s XI, Bill Woodfull’s XI, Stan McCabe’s XI, and Don Bradman’s XI.

10. Awards and honours

O’Reilly was named one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1935, and in 1980 was awarded an Order of British Empire (OBE) for his services to cricket.

(Shiamak Unwalla is a proud Whovian and all-round geek who also dabbles in cricket writing as a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)