The general consensus is that Bill O’Reilly bowled quickish leg breaks, googlies (bosies) and top spinners. In fact he himself describes his bowling as ‘medium slow’. He bowled from a thirteen pace run-up and the above photograph shows that he had a very long delivery stride suggesting that he came in more quickly than many spinners who use a short delivery stride to help them get height and a pivot over the front leg. In his time, O’Reilly, opened the bowling for the Australians in a number of innings.
Today’s photograph above and yesterday’s here confirms much of this, with the front foot appearing to land on or over the popping crease (at a time when to be a legitimate ball the back foot had to land behind the bowling crease) giving a four or five foot stride. His collapsed front leg suggests that he didn’t have an action that went ‘over’ the front leg. At 6ft 3in he seems to have been less concerned with a high action.
But the really interesting thing is that Hammond in Cricket My World has a different interpretation of what was going on and Hammond, of course had the benefit of actually facing him.
“’The Tiger’, as they call him in Australia, took a long run to the wicket, and it was rather uncanny at first to watch this 6-ft 3-in. athlete gallop to the wicket, snarling with all his teeth, whirl his long powerful arms – and produce a slow ball that only ‘fired’ when it left the pitch. The mountain laboured and brought forward a mouse – but the mouse tweaked under the bat and knocked down the wicket!”
O’Reilly admits that his googly was slower. “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 and it bounced higher.”
Indeed in the same interview he admits bowling googlies at Hammond in particular at least twice an over, commenting that, “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.”
This reference to ‘the point of contact’ is O’Reilly’s great legacy to the game and the art of spin. The view that batsmen bat by reference to a chosen point of contact and that spin bowling is about either getting the ball to that point earlier than the batsman has predicted and so to bowl or trap him LBW or to get there later and so to induce a lifted shot is a really useful concept.
It is also a consensus that O’Reilly did not turn the ball a great deal. It seems to Third Man that from the photographs of the grip yesterday he produced his revolutions by flicking the ring finger upwards with the palm facing the batsman for the leg-break. He thus may have sacrificed the extra revolutions imparted by a flick of the wrist.
With this method, turning the hand with palm to midwicket produces the top-spinner and moving the hand slightly further round with the palm facing back to mid-on for the right hander produces the googly.
The unorthodox grip might also have produced less obvious changes in orientation to effect the three deliveries described above. The difference between leg break, top spin and googly could have been minimum, helping with disguise but reducing turn. In fact the energy of the rotations would have brought the ball down and forwards in a preponderance of topspin.
The direction of the seam for the leg break would have been just off-straight (say towards first slip rather than gully) and just finely to leg rather than to backward shot leg for the googly. This topspin would have produced a relatively high degree of ‘dip’ thanks to the Magnus Effect and therefore would have produced a relatively high bounce or ‘kick’ as described by Hammond and others.
Hammond thought that the mountain laboured and brought forth a mouse. Well, the mouse had a kick like a mule’s.