I was disappointed to see so little attention given on December 20, 2005 to the centenary of the birth of one of Australia's finest cricketers of all time. For many, Bill O'Reilly was Australia's best slow bowler before (and maybe even including) Shane Warne.
William Joseph O'Reilly was born in the outback New South Wales town of White Cliffs. A schoolteacher by profession, he made his first-class debut for NSW against the touring New Zealand side at the SCG in 1927, but after the Department of Education transferred him back to the country, it was the 1931-32 season before the tall right-arm leg-spinner became a regular in the NSW side. He made his Test debut during the Bodyline series of 1932-33 and went on to form a magnificent spin bowling partnership with Clarrie Grimmett, especially on the 1934 tour of England and the 1935-36 tour of South Africa.
With his playing career interrupted by the War, he played his final Test match, and indeed his final competitive game of cricket, against New Zealand in 1946 at the age of forty. After the game, he famously hurled his cricket boots out of the dressing-room window at the Basin Reserve, Wellington.
In 27 Test matches for Australia he took 144 wickets at an average of 22.59. An unusually miserly bowler for a leg-spinner, he conceded just 1.94 runs per over across his Test career. In all first-class cricket he took 774 wickets at the extraordinary average of 16.60, claiming a best of 9/38 and taking ten wickets in a match seventeen times. This in an era when pitches favoured the batsmen, including one DG Bradman.
An overview such as this doesn't go anywhere near doing justice to a bowler who was almost unique in Australian cricket. Few slow bowlers have shown such a tough, aggressive, competitive spirit as O'Reilly, at least not until Shane Warne came along. O'Reilly, who became a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald after his retirement as a player, died in 1992, months after Warne made his Test debut. As far as I am aware, the two never met.
You can browse the complete list of his 135 first-class appearances on CricketArchive.
Phil Wilkins, who worked with O'Reilly at the Herald for many years, wrote an appreciation of "Tiger Bill", as he was nicknamed, on the occasion of his birth centenary. It is disappointing that neither Cricket Australia nor Cricket New South Wales did anything to acknowledge the occasion. Just imagine the fanfare we can expect for Bradman's 100th in 2008.