The Tiger Who Bowled Like a Mouse and The Mouse that Kicked Like a Mule

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.”

Tiger, Mouse or Mule?

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.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Tiger Who Bowled Like a Mouse and The Mouse that Kicked Like a Mule

  1. diogenes_1960

    Interesting – i seem to recall that Denis Compton commented on the bounce O’Reilly achieved with his googly. and Len hutton, when writing about his 365, mentioned that Bill edrich got out because he was not used to facing O’Reilly and played the action. It seems as if it was difficult to gauge the moment of release because of all the hustle and bustle and the lack of a “gather and pivot” in the action.

    • Diogenes,
      Batsmen who faced O’Reilly and wrote about it are most confusing. Compton actually makes matters worse. In *Playing for England* he describes how, after Frank Chester twice no-balled him, O’Reilly “stalked back to his run up, livid in face, turned, flew up to the crease, and sent down a fast ball on leg stump. Just how it happened I have never been able to fathom, but, as if grabbed by some unseen hand, the ball suddenly turned and hit – THE OFF STUMP”.
      Isn’t that what any batsman might expect? Or is Third Man missing something? Was the ball so ‘fast’ that such turn was a shock?

  2. diogenes_1960

    I know just what you mean, 3rd Man. Batsmen memoirists are a very confusing breed and are often very poor analysts. However, I have read a few accounts of people suddenly being surprised by a big ripping leg-break, as if batsmen got into the habit of expecting the leg-break not to turn. O’Reilly’s interview account suggests that he was more of a length and flight bowler than a turner, even though he bowled rapidly…or did he? If only we could compare him with Chandra – who really was almost medium-pace. And how did his pace measure up against Verity or Underwood? I don’t recall many people comparing O’Reilly’s pace with Verity and yet Verity is invariably recalled as a quicker than average bowler. somehow, it is always much easier to imagine the batsmen of the past than the bowlers. Just how did Barnes, Foster, CTB Turner, Noble, let alone Peebles and Faulkner bowl? What made Blythe different from Rhodes? I recall your earlier post on the off-spinners of the 60s – Mortimore the flight artist, Allen the spinner, Titmus the drifter and Illingworth the accurate – as journalists of the time tended to characterise them. If only we knew how much they varied speed, trajectory and spin and how many revs they tended to give the ball….

  3. diogenes_1960

    at an event at the National Film Theatre in London, David Frith presented some film of Grimmett bowling in the nets. He achieved a massive amount of drift and regularly turned the ball from leg to off stump. The “ball of the century” that accounted for Gatting might have just been regular fare to Hobbs, Hendren and co. Thinking about it, that picture of Sutcliffe getting bowled by O’Reilly for 196 in the first test of 1932-33…maybe that was another of those surprise leg-break rippers even surprising someone on 196…was it O’Reilly?…I should check before posting to you of all people, but I know my thoughts intrigue you

  4. diogenes_1960

    apologies ThirdMan, a happy half hour browsing through David Frith’s Bodyline Autopsy shows that I was thinking of O’Reilly’s dismissal of Sutcliffe in the second test of the 1932-33 series, bowled round his legs sweeping….probably from one of those sporadic rippers. However, amongst the pictures in that book are some fascinating examples of bradman following through from hooks and cuts with such an odd left-wrist position that you can hardly imagine how he held the bat. It reminds me of the test match Tavare. Although he could block with the best, when he gave a mind to it he could still drive and cut with some force despite having his left wrist behind the handle. And I think that Tim Wall got Sutcliffe for 194 in the first test. A series of thoughts on batsmen whose test averages are higher than their first-class averages…Sutcliffe, Paynter, Mead (?), Tyldesley GE, Trescothick (?)

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