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The Australian cricket all-time great alphabet teams: Letter O

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Roar Guru
12th March, 2020

Following on from last time’s N team, we come to the O team.

This team struggles for batting depth, with only one true great. But if they get you on a spinning wicket, they could cause some serious trouble.

Leo O’Brien (VIC) – five Tests, 211 runs at 26.37
Opening the batting is the left-handed Leo O’Brien. His Test career was nothing to write home about, but he had a solid first-class record of 3303 runs at 36.70 from 61 matches.

O’Brien made his debut in 1932-33 during the Bodyline series. He played in the second and fifth Tests and scored one half century. He next played against South Africa for two away Tests in 1936 and acquitted himself well, with a half century and a 40. This was enough to get him a Test against England in their next tour, but two low scores meant the end of his Test aspirations.

During the Bodyline tour, O’Brien played for an Australian XI against the English in an early tour match. He was at the other end when Douglas Jardine first set a Bodyline-type field for Bill Woodfull with five players on the leg side. He reputedly said to the fielders “It’s the right-hander down that end, I’m the left-hander” to help them out.

At the time of his death O’Brien was the oldest Australian Test cricketer.

Leo O’Connor (QLD) – 46 first-class matches, 3311 runs at 39.89, nine centuries, 196 high score
Leo O’Connor was Queensland’s first Sheffield Shield captain in 1926-27. By then he had already been playing first-class cricket for the state since 1913. But despite being a veteran he was still a force to be reckoned with.

In the state’s first game, against the might of NSW, Queensland were left with a target of 400 to win. O’Connor made his highest first-class score of 196 and was the last man out, run out, as Queensland fell only eight runs short. Those eight runs proved to be the difference between sharing the Shield title with South Australia that year. It was to be nearly 90 years before Queensland broke through for their first title.


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That first season O’Connor also became the first Queensland player to score a hundred in each innings (as Queensland got their revenge and defeated NSW) and was Queensland’s standout batsman, making over 700 runs for the season at 66.

Prior to moving to Queensland, O’Connor also played ten VFL games for Essendon and he also captained Queensland in that sport. In the early 1930s he also led talks to merge Australian rules and rugby league in Queensland!

Norm O’Neill (NSW) (leg spin) (captain) – 42 Tests, 2779 runs at 45.55, six centuries, 181 high score, Cricket Australia Hall of Fame
Norm O’Neill is the undisputed quality batsman of this side. One of a steady line of players to wear the next Bradman title over the years, O’Neill played for NSW at 18 and Australia at 21 (in 1958). In 1957-58 O’Neill achieved a rare double of topping the Sheffield Shield batting (1003 runs at 85.75) and bowling averages (26 wickets at 20.42), with his useful leg breaks. He was the first player after Bill Ponsford and Don Bradman to score 1000 runs in a Shield season.

His early years in the national team were also extremely strong. In 1958 he scored 71 not out in the second innings of his first Test to guide Australia to victory against England. By the end of the 1960-61 series against the West Indies, O’Neill was second only to Garfield Sobers as the world’s best batsman, after scoring 181 in the famous tied Test at the Gabba. He was named one the Wisden cricketers of the year after the 1961 Ashes tour.


Later returns were not quite as strong and by 1965 his Test career was over. Between 1962 and 1965 he only scored one more Test century from 32 innings. His batting average fell from 53.8 to 45.5 during this period.

O’Neill was also a top baseball player. In 1957 he was offered a trial with the New York Yankees but turned it down.

Norm O’Neill and Neil Harvey.

Norm O’Neill and Neil Harvey are Australian cricket legends. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hec Oakley (VIC) – 28 first-class matches, 1605 runs at 43.37, four centuries, 162 high score
Hec Oakley was a solid first-class cricketer for Victoria for a decade in the 1930s, who in a strong Australian era, never broke through for higher honours.

He scored four first-class centuries and also made a pair of half centuries against the touring English during their 1932-33 Bodyline Tour. The closest he got to representing was as 12th man for an Australian XI.

Oakley was an all-round sportsman. In addition to cricket, he represented Australia at table tennis, and his state in tennis and Australian rules football.

Simon O’Donnell (VIC) (right-arm medium fast) – six Tests, 206 runs at 29.42, six wickets at 84.0, 87 ODIs, 1242 runs at 25.34, 108 wickets at 28.72
Simon O’Donnell is best remembered as a powerful hitter in one-day cricket, but he was also a very solid first-class all-rounder who played six Tests. Ultimately his lack of penetration with the ball prevented further Test opportunities.

However, he played 87 ODIs for Australia, achieving the 1000 runs and 100 wickets double in that format. In a lower scoring era, his strike rate of over 80 was considered elite and he at one time held the world record for the fastest 50 in the format (off only 18 balls, against Sri Lanka in 1990).


Five of O’Donnell’s Test matches were during the 1985 tour of England. He scored 184 runs at 26.3 but only took six wickets, going wicketless in the final two Tests. He was recalled for the Sydney Test against NZ in November 1985 and again batted solidly but without taking any scalps.

At first-class level O’Donnell reached the generally accepted benchmark of a true all-rounder, with his batting average of 39.34 exceeding his bowling average of 37.36. He scored over 4500 first-class runs and took more than 150 wickets during his first-class career.

Ron Oxenham (QLD) (right-arm medium) – seven Tests, 151 runs at 15.1, 14 wickets at 37.28
Ron Oxenham was a Queensland stalwart during their early years in the Sheffield Shield. His Test figures do not reflect his quality, but his first-class bowling figures of 369 wickets of 18.67 puts him in very elite company. And this was accompanied by 3693 runs at 25.64. A true all-rounder.

At Sheffield Shield level, Oxenham’s 167 wickets at 22.11 places him eighth in the all-time best averages for players who took more than 100 wickets. At the time of his retirement he was the only Queensland player to take 100 Shield wickets and had taken more than double than the next best from the state.

Oxenham debuted for Queensland in 1911, but the state did not enter the Sheffield Shield until 1926. Oxenham was then picked for Australia in 1928, by which time he was 37 and possibly a little past his best. His economy rate in Tests was still a miserly 1.73, but he only once took more than five wickets in a match, against the West Indies at the Gabba in 1931 as Australia recorded a massive innings victory.

Oxenham also made his highest Test score in this match (48) as Australia cruised to 558 on the back of a double from Bradman and a century from Ponsford. The West Indies struggled in their first innings with the bat against the slow bowling threat of Oxenham, Bert Ironmonger and Clarrie Grimmett. The amazing George Headley came in at 1-5 and remained not out 102 as his teammates mustered 88 between them, with Oxenham cleaning up the tail to take four wickets. It got worse in the second innings, with Headley’s 28 still the top score. Oxenham took another two wickets, with Grimmett the star taking five.


Oxenham was 12th man when Australia played their first ever Test match in Queensland in 1928, at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground. There were no other Queenslanders in the team for the Test, notable for the debut of a fairly handy batsman by the name of Bradman (Bert Ironmonger from Victoria, who played in that Test, had been born in Queensland).

Bert Oldfield (NSW) (wicketkeeper) – 54 Tests, 1427 runs at 22.65, 78 catches and 52 stumpings
Bert Oldfield is partly famous for getting his skull fractured while batting during the 1931-32 Bodyline Series. But he was also an extremely durable and competent keeper, playing more than 50 Tests over 16 years as Australia’s number one gloveman during the 1920s and 1930s.

Oldfield spent a large portion of his career keeping to the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Clarrie Grimmett and Arthur Mailey, hence the amazing number of stumpings executed during his career. His 52 is still a world record. In all first-class cricket Oldfield completed 263 stumpings in only 245 matches. That places him 16th on the all-time list and no keeper above him executed more than one stumping per match.

His expertise behind the stumps can be illustrated by the 1928-29 Ashes series. England scored over 1900 runs in the first five innings and Oldfield conceded a grand total of only three byes. In the 1925 Ashes Test in Melbourne, Oldfield stumped four of England’s top seven, including Jack Hobbs. Hobbs had reputedly lost balance for a split second as a Jack Ryder delivery had gone past his cap and then found that Oldfield standing up had taken the head-high delivery and whipped off the bails.

Oldfield was a solid batsman in the days when keepers were not required to be the all-rounders they are today. An average of 22.65 was quite handy for the time. He rarely made big scores, with only four half centuries and a highest score of 65, but he was reliable and consistent.

Oldfield was carried from the field unconscious after being hit while batting during the Bodyline series. On regaining consciousness he claimed it was his own fault and the English bowler Harold Larwood and Oldfield later became good friends after Larwood moved to Australia. Despite his fractured skull he only missed one Test and scored a gutsy 51 in Sydney on his return.

Kerry O’Keeffe (NSW) (leg spin) – 24 Tests, 644 runs at 25.76, 53 wickets at 38.07, best bowling 5-101
‘Skull’ is probably more famous for his eccentric commentary these days, but he first made his name as a leg-spin bowler who also held the bat well enough to be considered a bowling all-rounder.


O’Keeffe played more than 20 Tests in the 1970s when spin bowling in Australia was in a bit of a hole. He had limited success – being the next Richie Benaud was as difficult as being the next Shane Warne – an only took one career five-wicket haul.

O’Keeffe’s most famous match was probably the Centenary Test in 1977. Opener Rick McCosker had his jaw smashed in the first innings and despite making a first-innings duck from number nine, O’Keeffe was promoted to open the batting. He made 14 runs in a close match, before taking three wickets in the final innings, two of which were the rampant Derek Randall for 174 and the captain Tony Greig.

Stephen O’Keefe (NSW) (left-arm orthodox) – nine Tests, 35 wickets at 29.40, best bowling 6-35
Stephen O’Keefe has been the unlucky player out of Australia’s spin merry-go-round in the post-Warne era. Despite being the premier spin bowler in the Sheffield Shield for a long period, he was repeatedly overlooked and has only received limited opportunities as the second spinner to Nathan Lyon.


(AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Even so, O’Keefe has managed to produce a match for the ages. In the first Test of the 2017 tour of India, O’Keefe destroyed the vaunted Indian batting line-up on a vicious turning wicket, taking 12 wickets for 70 for the match as Australia recorded a shock victory. Outside of that Test, O’Keefe has been tidy but not overly threatening at Test level.

This is in contrast to his truly outstanding first-class record of 301 wickets at 24.66 from 88 matches, with 13 five-wicket hauls and four times taking ten wickets in a match. Coupled with 2356 runs at 25.6 and Stephen O’Keefe has been one of the most valuable first-class players in Australia over the last decade.

Bill O’Reilly (NSW) (leg spin) – 27 Tests, 144 wickets at 22.59, best bowling 7-54, Cricket Australia Hall of Fame, ACB Team of the Century
Was Bill O’Reilly the best spinner Australia has produced? He is certainly up there in conversation with the likes of Warne, Grimmett, Hugh Trumble and Benaud. O’Reilly was a relentless, aggressive, accurate leg-spinner who formed one half of the greatest spin duo in Australian history with Clarrie Grimmett.

O’Reilly only played 27 Tests, but his record of 5.33 wickets per Test is absolutely elite, as is his sub-23 average for a leg-spinner. He took 11 five-wicket hauls in only 48 innings and he had a better record away than at home. He averaged a mind-boggling 14.95 in his 14 Test victories. O’Reilly played in only five full Test series and took more than 20 wickets in each one.


If not for losing the second half of his career to World War Two, who knows how many wickets O’Reilly would have taken. His first-class record of 774 wickets at an average of 16.8 indicates it would have been many, many more.

Was he the best? Bradman called O’Reilly the best bowler he ever faced – that will do me.

Jack O’Connor (NSW/SA) (right-arm fast medium) – four Tests, 13 wickets at 26.15
Jack O’Connor was a fast bowler from the beginning of the 20th Century. He had a relatively short peak, topping the Sheffield Shield wickets in 1908-09 and playing his four Tests during that period. He took five second-innings wickets on debut against England and eight for the match but struggled thereafter. O’Connor toured England in 1909 but only played one Test. O’Connor took 224 first-class wickets at 23.45.

Next time we tackle the P team, boasting two Australian captains, a couple of prolific run-scorers, a player who has a higher Test average than Bradman, a couple of highly volatile fast bowlers and a special guest star.