New Zealand’s First Professional CricketerMartin Chandler |
There is a tendency for Glenn Turner to be overlooked whenever cricket conversation turns to the question of who is the finest batsman New Zealand has produced. Statistically, having scored 34,346 career runs at just a shade under 50, and being the only one of his countrymen to achieve a century of centuries, Turner should be a favoured candidate. That he is not is doubtless due to the rather limited and colourless nature of his stroke play in his early years, combined with his decision to, effectively, withdraw from Test cricket between 1977 and 1982 because of a dispute with the New Zealand Cricket Council over payments.
The young Turner’s determination to succeed as a professional cricketer was such that as a teenager he worked every hour that he could in a bakery for 13 months in order to save sufficient money to get himself to England to try his hand at the professional game. He had been taken under the wing of Test batsman Khalid “Billy” Ibadulla, when the Pakistani had three seasons with Otago in the mid 1960s. Ibadulla also had a long career in England with Warwickshire and, guided by him, Turner initially approached Warwickshire, for whom his countrymen Ray Hitchcock and Tom Pritchard had enjoyed successful careers after the Second World War. Somewhat foolishly, given that in years to come he was to score as many as eleven centuries against them, the West Midlands county rejected him and Turner threw in his lot with near neighbours Worcestershire instead.
An opening batsman, Turner always knew that weight of runs was going to be the yardstick by which he was judged, and in his formative years he eschewed all risk. While his skill was such that he could always keep the scoreboard moving by clever placement of the ball, no one would claim that he was a pleasure to watch in his early days. In 1971 New Zealand journalist Don Cameron wrote of him, looking back on Turner?s successful campaign in the Caribbean; Turner scored so heavily because, with his logical cricket brain, he worked out quickly the things he could do and could not do under the conditions of the time. Later his county colleague Basil D’Oliveira compared his hunger for runs to that of Geoffrey Boycott. D’Oliveira added his defence was immaculate, and that he believed initially Turner would always be a blocker, but he readily conceded that as his career developed he blossomed into a really fine attractive player.
Altogether Turner played in 41 Test matches, scoring seven centuries and averaging more than 44. Had he allowed himself a full Test career then his figures might have been better still. His determination not to lose his wicket is best illustrated by his first Test match against England in 1969 when, after New Zealand had been set 362 to win, Derek Underwood was at his lethal best on a spiteful Lords wicket and bowled 31 overs to take 7 for 32 in England’s eventual victory by 231 runs. Underwood could not, however, dislodge Turner, who carried his bat for 43 in New Zealand’s innings of 131 all out.
The greatest highlight, statistically, was that remarkable series in the Caribbean in 1971/72 when New Zealand, who had been expected to be hopelessly outplayed, managed to draw each of the five Test matches and more importantly to compete on level terms with their hosts. Turner had a marvellous tour including innings of 259 and 223 not out in the Tests as well as two other double centuries against Guyana and a President’s XI. Over the course of the tour he was involved in as many as nine century partnerships, including three in the Tests. Of Turner’s unbeaten innings in the first Test, his country’s first ever in the Caribbean, local journalist Brunell Jones managed to rein in his enthusiasm for Lawrence Rowe’s debut 214 and 100* for just long enough to describe the New Zealander’s innings as masterly. As Rowe’s astonishing start faltered in the later matches he found a little more time to describe Turner’s 259 in the fourth Test. He wrote that Turner was solidly entrenched, and that he never gave the impression he would give his hand away, but his main concerns were with the home selectors decision to field only four specialist bowlers and the state of the wicket. Jones writes about the game in the manner that his countrymen play it, with little significance attached to statistics, but it is clear that at one stage there were real fears amongst home supporters that Garry Sobers’ then Test record 365* may be beaten. Jones also dredged up one curious record, presumably intended as a criticism of the cautious approach of the New Zealanders, that the opening partnership of Turner and Terry Jarvis, that eventually extended to 387, was the longest ever recorded in a Test in the Caribbean in terms of the number of deliveries the two batsmen faced.
In the light of Turner’s achievements in the Caribbean, and his dominance of the county game in England, his appearance in New Zealand colours on the 1973 tour of England was eagerly awaited. He began by joining the exulted few who have scored 1,000 runs in May, but then went on to be strangely subdued in the Tests recording only one half century and ending up just sixth in the Test batting averages. Even a moderate performance from Turner to go with the heroics of Bev Congdon and Vic Pollard in the first two Tests might have meant that New Zealand?s first Test victory over England would have come a few years earlier than it did. As it was he failed in those matches, and indeed in the first innings of the third Test, before fighting a lone battle in the second innings as his side subsided to a disappointing innings defeat. Turner was the last man dismissed, for 81 out of 142. None of his teammates scored more than 18. It would have been a fitting moment had he not been adjudged lbw to John Snow, and been able to claim a record as the first man to carry his bat through a Test innings three times.
Turner’s greatest contribution to his country’s cause came in the 1973/74 home Tests against Australia when Ian Chappell’s side were the first Test playing Australian visitors since 1946/47. At this point in their history New Zealand had still never beaten England, despite 45 attempts, so Australian confidence was high, particularly as Chappell’s men had just completed a 2-0 win in the home leg of the six match series. The drawn second Test in Sydney should however have been the visitor’s, so Australia were aware that their neighbours were no pushover.
New Zealand skipper Bev Congdon won an important toss and had no hesitation in inviting Chappell to bat. After rain prevented a prompt start the Australians struggled against an accurate seam attack and were eventually bowled out for a modest 223. A 22 year old Richard Hadlee and left armer Dick Collinge broke the back of the Australian innings, but the three quick wickets on the second morning from the New Zealand skipper’s gentle seamers should not be overlooked.
The second highest scorer in New Zealand’s reply was wicketkeeper Ken Wadsworth with 24. That a first innings lead of 32 was secured was due to the 101 that Turner contributed before being sixth to fall with the Australian total in sight. This was very much version one of Turner and the innings was testament to his guts and determination. He did not bat well, one relative saying he scratched around like a bloody ant. Spectators lost count of the number of times he played and missed, but he hung in there and, prior to his dismissal, gave the bowlers and fielders nothing. That bowling was of high quality, Wisden describing Max Walker as having bowled magnificently on a pitch which allowed him to seam the ball regularly and Geoff Dymock as being almost his (Walker’s) equal. If Australia made a mistake it was in their team selection as that pair were the only front line seamers. Greg Chappell filled in as third seamer, bowling more than 37 eight ball overs in the match. One of Australia’s frontline bowlers, leg spinner Kerry O’Keefe, was not called upon to deliver even a single over in the entire match.
When Australia batted again they found batting no easier although Ian Redpath again (he had top-scored with 71 in the first innings), Ian Davis and Doug Walters all scored half centuries. Richard Hadlee and Collinge again made the early breakthroughs, and this time round it was Dayle Hadlee who produced a burst of three quick wickets just as Australia looked like they might be taking the initiative.
New Zealand needed 228 for a historic victory. With just over five sessions left a result was, barring the intervention of the weather, inevitable. The start was sound, Turner and John Parker putting on 51 for the first wicket. Turner’s batting was as circumspect as in the first innings but unlike then he was untroubled by the bowling now and batted superbly. Richard Hadlee later compared the two innings by writing This was a very different Turner – a master batsman, completely in control.Parker too batted well until the tireless Walker persuaded him to follow an outswinger. “Tangles” then brought one back in to dismiss Morrison lbw and the nerves started to jangle. When, at 62, Congdon was run out, a lesser man than Turner might have been psyched out. It was Turner’s call, refused by Congdon, although from contemporary reports it seems the run was there and that Congdon was the author of his own misfortune.
But Turner remained calm and he and Brian Hastings set about putting together the fourth wicket partnership of 115 that won the match. They ran sharp singles judiciously, and both drove powerfully when the opportunity arose, and neither gave a chance until, right at the end of the day Hastings fell. He had struck Mallett for four but, mistakenly the umpire signalled six. Turner pointed out the error to the umpire, and to a furious Ian Chappell, but the Australian captain was not mollified and fired a volley of abuse at Turner. In his first autobiography Turner states that altogether Chappell had launched three separate verbal attacks on him, including telling him he would see him later. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Hastings’ concentration was affected when he was bowled by Mallett almost immediately afterwards, and although Turner made no mention in his book of feeling affected by Chappell’s behaviour, beyond demanding an apology, in 1981 Richard Hadlee wrote that he had been very upset.
Next day Turner carried on his serene way, shepherding a nervous Jeremy Coney through a partnership of 29 in the course of which he went to his second century of the match with a sweetly struck square drive to the boundary. After that Turner left centre stage to Wadsworth, who struck Greg Chappell through the covers to score the winning runs. Turner was the hero though. He was the first New Zealander to score two separate hundreds in a Test, and he batted just seven minutes short of twelve hours. Other than 70 minutes at the end of his side’s first innings he was on the field throughout the match.
As he matured Turner’s batting changed. The dominance of limited overs cricket meant that he had to start using the shots that he had always had, but had generally held back, and he also developed two shots that were to become very much his own. The first was a front foot square drive which he regularly utilised with great precision in days when deep fielders were rarely deployed in front of the wicket on the offside. His other innovation was the chip shot over the inner ring of fielders which was developed specifically for the one day game, on the basis that whilst it was unrealistic to expect to regularly clear the boundary edge, the improvement in ground fielding was such that the aerial route had to be taken to keep the scoreboard moving. In time as well as leading their batting in the First Class game Turner also became Worcestershire’s limited overs talisman. In time he translated his form in the domestic one day game into the international arena, and was a major contributor in the early World Cups and other ODIs. He also assumed leadership of the national team for the inaugural World Cup in 1975, and then the Test side on Bevan Congdon’s retirement from the role.
Those who criticise Turner for his withdrawal from international cricket would do well to remember that in 1976, when he led New Zealand to Pakistan and India, he was paid less than any other member of the side. Each member of the squad, all of whom were amateurs except Turner received a tour allowance, and all the amateurs were also paid at least something by their employers. As a professional cricketer there was no commercial organisation there to make up the shortfall for Turner. This ridiculous situation arose due to the reactionary thinking of the Board of Control, and completely overlooked that Turner was captain, and therefore had additional responsibilities, and that he was by some distance the dominant player in the squad. Most importantly of all no regard was had to the fact that he was the only one of the side who relied solely upon cricket for his living. It should therefore be of little surprise that with his benefit year looming at Worcestershire in 1978 he decided to concentrate on earning that living and from then until 1982/83 he made himself available only for the 1979 World Cup. On his all too brief return to international cricket there were only two more Test matches, both against Sri Lanka and in neither of those did Turner make a significant contribution, but there were also a number of ODIs in which he performed very well and which gave him the opportunity to demonstrate to the New Zealand administrators and supporters just what they had missed in his absence. As with a number of professional sportsmen he did, ultimately, go on a little too long, his appearance at the 1983 World Cup being far removed from the standards that he had set himself and that tournament brought down the curtain on his international career.
With his English employers Turner enjoyed a fine career, making at least 1,000 runs in the 15 consecutive seasons between 1968 and his last year with the county in 1982. On three occasions he exceeded 2,000, and in all First Class cricket for Worcestershire he scored more than 22,000 runs at average in excess of 52. Statistically his last season with the county in 1982, by which time he was 35, was his best as he averaged more than 90. For that year Turner played only nine times. The then rules were that although counties could have two overseas players on their books only one could play in any particular game, so Turner alternated with West Indian fast bowler Hartley Alleyne. The reduced workload clearly did him good though as he scored five hundreds in those nine matches, the second of them, against a Warwickshire attack led by England men Bob Willis and Gladstone Small, saw him reach his century of centuries with the highest innings of his career, an unbeaten 311, scored at not much less than a run a minute. Had his captain not declared as the total passed 500 who knows where he may have ended up. The innings was a classic example of the imperturbable nature of the man. There was sufficient time before he actually got to three figures for his old friend and mentor, Ibadulla, to get to the ground, change into a waiter’s suit, and take a couple of gin and tonics out to the middle to celebrate the landmark. Turner later said his only concern was whether the ice in his drink might melt before he had a chance to down it.
A couple of other matches from Turner’s county career deserve mention, first and foremost the encounter with Glamorgan at Swansea in 1977. Glamorgan batted first and, in the 100 overs the rules then permitted them for their first innings, got to 309-4 before the compulsory declaration. In Worcestershire’s rather sorry reply only one man scored more than 7. They were all out for 169 Turner, opening as usual, carrying his bat for an unbeaten 141, a remarkable 83.43% of the total. To illustrate how much more difficult batting conditions were on the second day Glamorgan then struggled to 142-7 by the close. Sadly a potentially fascinating final day was lost to the weather.
The last game I will mention is another where a record was surely set, although I cannot be certain. It was Turner’s first game for Worcestershire against the touring Pakistanis in 1967. He did not distinguish himself with the bat, but did take four wickets with his off breaks – he only ever took one more, and I find it difficult to believe that anyone else who has played as many as 284 games for a team has taken 80% of his career haul of wickets in his very first match for them.
Although Turner’s playing days ended in England, with that 1983 World Cup, he did not desert New Zealand cricket, after all it was the only job he knew. His first job was to set up and run the Otago University and Community Sports Trust, which was formed to promote sport and recreation at all levels. He held that position for more than two years before being persuaded to accept the position of cricket manager to the New Zealand side. In the two years of his appointment New Zealand, amidst great celebration, won series home and away against Australia and then won a series for the first time in England. After that he returned to the Trust, and became a popular and perceptive commentator. He had another stint as manager after a poor run of results under Geoff Howarth, but this time he could not work the same magic and the appointment ended early although he has subsequently served as a selector, and coached Otago. He sought the top job again just two years ago, but like Ken Rutherford and Mark Greatbatch was overlooked in favour of a man steeped in the running of Australian Lawn Bowls, Kim Littlejohn. But last November Turner was back in the fold as a “high-performance talent scout” which, one suspects given all the circumstances, is a fancy name for a selector.