‘Tiger’ O’Reilly – 60 Years In Cricket

Published: 1985
Pages: 213
Author: O'Reilly, Bill
Publisher: Collins
Rating: 3 stars

'Tiger' O'Reilly - 60 Years In Cricket

Bradman’s preference of O’Reilly over Grimmett as the greatest leg spinner has always intrigued me. I prefer Grimmett but then one does not feel comfortable disagreeing with the Don. O’Reilly’s autobiography was, therefore, one of my most eagerly awaited books. I was keen to know what he thought of the whole matter. There were other things about the book that heightened my anticipation as do all books about the Bradman era by ex-cricketers. What did he think of bodyline bowling, of Larwood and Jardine, of Bradman’s batting in that series and of McCabe’s- It was, therefore, no more than five minutes after getting my copy from the courier at my doorstep, that I was deeply engrossed in it.

Within fifteen minutes, however, I put it down. Its not O’Reilly’s fault, I suppose, that the first four chapters should be devoted to Ireland, his family (grand parents from both sides, White Cliffs (where his father went to work in 1895) and Marengo (where his father went in 1908) but, in the meantime, he lost me completely. Not being able to hold your public’s attention at the very start is a big failing of any book but then, I suppose, O’Reilly didn’t have me in mind as his target audience.

I took it up a couple of weeks later and I must admit I was amply rewarded. It got progressively better, towards the last quarter of the book, I found it difficult to put down. I would advise anyone who picks up this book to keep this in mind. The book keeps breaking off from cricket to go into O’Reilly’s personal affairs and if that bother you, as it did me, bear with it for there is always some interesting bit about the game to follow. Overall, the book is not a great piece of writing but it has some fabulously interesting passages. Here’s a peak.

One has read before of the first encounter of a young O’Reilly against boy Bradman but it was interesting to read it from the bowler’s perspective. Somehow, it brought back memories of the boy Tendulkar murdering leg spinner Abdul Qadir in a game of little consequence. Overall, he writes of Bradman’s batting with deference and there is no attempt to pull him down from his pedestal as the greatest ever batsman. However, O’Reilly is clearly not a great fan of Bradman the captain or of Bradman the individual. While O’Reilly does not leave you with any feeling of being biased against Bradman, he talks of their relationship in a frank and outspoken manner, reminiscent of Ian Chappell.

”On the cricket field Bradman and I had the greatest of respect for each other….but I might as well come straight out with it and let you know, that, off the field, we had not much in common. You could say we did not like each other, but it would be closer to the truth to say we chose to have little to do with each other.”

There is a very interesting but sad bit about Fingleton’s reaction to being surprisingly dropped from the 1934 touring side to England and how it affected him for the rest of his living days. He is also very critical (and he is one of a zillion others) on Grimmett being dropped from the Australian side while still the world’s finest leg spinner and still at the peak of his powers despite his advancing age.

Of Grimmett, to whom he frankly attributes a lot of his own success, he thinks the world, paying him the ultimate tribute when he writes,

”Never has it ever entered my head that any batsman could possibly vie with Bradman for the laurel wreath fit for the world’s best to wear on his brow. Exactly the same goes with me for Clarence Grimmett, than whom no better bowler ever breathed.”

Its not as if he is being polite to a fellow Australian leg spinner. He is almost contemptuous of the leg spinner that just preceded him and Grimmett as the Australian premier bowler – Arthur Mailey. Time and again in the book, he runs down Mailey’s bowling and his ideas on bowling and on cricket. He also doesn’t seem to like the English opener Herbert Sutcliffe very much. Besides not being overly complimentary of his batting he also hints that Sutcliffe was one of the close advisors of Jardine in the bodyline tactics.

One of the most interesting criticism’s coming from his pen, however, is of the English establishment, who, according to him,

”evidently despise leg spin, yet they have always been suckers for it. They have time and again tried to handicap leg spin right out of the game. Why did they think it necessary to try and destroy leg spin in the 1930’s by introducing the infamous lbw rule which meant that the batsman could not be given out lbw if the ball pitched outside the leg stump?…

The answer is simple: the English were sick to death of leg spin, and well they might have been. They could not handle it, so they decided to destroy it. They did that with such comprehensive success that leg spin is in danger of disappearing from the game.”

The other two portraits that are thoroughly enjoyable are those of Stan McCabe and his tragic end as well as ‘Old Steadfast’, William Malden Woodfull and his heroic stance of non-retaliation against the ‘bodyline’ tactics.

Overall it is a thoroughly enjoyable book, if you are not put off, as I was initially, by the extensive personal life details. His style is very simple and conversation like. There isn’t any attempt to refine it and bind the book in a strong thread that runs through its entirety. I presume this is intentional since he has used an editor – Jack Eagan. I would recommend the book to all those interested in the cricket and cricketers of those times. I have rated it three stars but if I was to consider just the latter two-thirds of the book, I would have unhesitatingly changed that to four.

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