Norm O’Neill : biography
Norman Clifford O’Neill OAM (19 February 1937 – 3 March 2008) was an cricketer who played for New South Wales and Australia. A right-handed batsman known for his back foot strokeplay, O’Neill made his state debut aged 18, before progressing to Test selection aged 21 in late 1958. Early in his career, O’Neill was one of the foremost batsmen in the Australian team, scoring three Test centuries and topping the run scoring aggregates on a 1959–60 tour of the Indian subcontinent which helped Australia win its last Test and series on Pakistani soil for 39 years, as well as another series in India. His career peaked in 1960–61 when he scored 181 in the Tied Test against the West Indies, and at the end of the series, had a career average of 58.25. His performances on the 1961 tour of England saw him named as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year. Thereafter his form was less formidable, characterised by nervousness and fidgeting at the start of his innings. Persistent knee problems as well as a controversial media attack on the legality of West Indian bowler Charlie Griffith saw him dropped from the Australian team after 1965. O’Neill also bowled occasional leg spin and was regarded as one of the finest fielders of his era. He later became a cricket commentator and his son Mark O’Neill also played cricket at state level.
Standing six feet tall, O’Neill was compared to Don Bradman upon his entry into Test cricket. At his best, he was a dynamic stroke maker who was a crowd favourite because of his ability to score at a high pace, in particular with his power off the back foot. He was noted for his nimble footwork, which he used to negate spin bowling; however this slowed in his later career as he put on weight. O’Neill particularly liked to sweep the slower bowlers. He often put too much emphasis on his right hand, allowing a large space between his hands on the bat handle, and then turning his right shoulder too square towards the bowler. The renowned English batsman and captain Wally Hammond said that O’Neill was the best all-round batsman he had seen since World War II. O’Neill’s tall build, strength and good looks also drew comparison to his boyhood idol Keith Miller. Despite the comparisons to Bradman, O’Neill was much taller and broader, and was often impetuous whereas Bradman was known for his patience and lack of rashness. O’Neill was also criticised for hitting across the line early in his innings.
O’Neill was highly regarded for his style and entertainment values. Teammate Alan Davidson said "once set he was the most exhilarating player you’d ever want to see—he was dynamite. He’d play attacking shots off balls other people would only think of defending. He had wonderful skill and technique. His shots off the back foot down the ground off fast bowlers—you can’t really describe how good they were." His captain for Australia and New South Wales, Richie Benaud said that he was "one of the greatest entertainers we’ve had in Australian cricket". O’Neill’s style led the British writer EW Swanton to say "the art of batting, he reminded us, was not dead, merely inexplicably dormant" Wisden opined that "A high innings by O’Neill is a thing of masterful beauty. His stroking is delectable, immense in its power."
Later in his career, O’Neill became a nervous and superstitious batsman, particular at the start of an innings. He wrote "batting is a lonely business" in his 1964 autobiography Ins and Outs, opining that he sometimes found first-class cricket to be "depressing and lonely".
He was regarded as an excellent fieldsman at cover, with a powerful and accurate throw, described by Wisden as a "dream throw" honed from a junior career as a baseballer. He was named as utility player in the 1957 All Australian baseball team, and his ability was such that he was approached by Major League Baseball scouts. Before the retirement of Neil Harvey, he and O’Neill fielded in tandem in the covers and the pair were regarded as the finest fielding combination of the time.