Charlie Turner: 14 little-known facts to know about the legendary Australian bowler
(From top left in clockwise direction): Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Flintoff, Anil Kumble, Brett Lee, Chaminda Vaas, Graeme Smith, Waqar Younis, Sanath Jayasuriya, Rahul Dravid, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Herschelle Gibbs

Charlie Thomas Biass Turner, born November 16, 1862 in Bathurst, New South Wales (NSW), was an Australian right-arm fast bowler who also bowled leg breaks and leg cutters. He is widely regarded as one of the best medium-fast bowlers produced by Australia. Standing at just five feet nine inches, Turner was not particularly quick, but took wickets with his accuracy, ingenious approach, and variations. He is often considered in the league of other great Australian medium-fast bowlers like his accomplice John James Ferris, Dennis Lillee, and Glenn McGrath. Turner was named ‘Wisden Bowler of the Year’ along with five others in 1889, which was the inaugural year of their awards. On his birth anniversary, Bhaskar Narayan takes a look at 14 lesser-known facts of this cricketer who passed away seven decades ago.

1.  English ancestry: Charles ‘Charlie’ Turner and his father shared the same name. Cricketer Charles Turner’s grandfather Robert Turner was a peasant who came from Leeds, England, and settled in Australia for business. He entered into the hospitality sector and opened many hotels. One of his hotels, the Royal Hotel, has survived a century. Robert brought his son Charles along with him. It was here that cricketer Charlie was born at Bathurst, a city 200 kilometres west of Sydney.

2.  Catalyst for cricket: There is an interesting legend behind Turner’s initial motivation towards cricket. When Turner was a kid, he stumbled upon his ability to turn the billiards ball. He applied this competence to the cricket ball later on.

3.  AKA Terror: Turner’s ability to virtually destroy the opposition effortlessly especially on wet pitches earned him the nickname ‘Terror,’ which was given to him by an English umpire. Though he was not quick, his accuracy and guile ensured he was a dangerous prospect.

4.  Troubled personal life: Turner married three times. When Turner was a 19-year-old, he married Sarah Emily Matthews. The couple settled in Sydney where Turner started working for Australian Joint Stock Bank. Unfortunately, Sarah died during childbirth. Turner was heartbroken after her demise and it took him some time to recover. He later married Harriet Emmy. With her he had a daughter and son. He then moved to Gympie with her and became a stock broker. He developed some misunderstandings with his daughter later on, which led to the father and daughter being estranged from each other. His son died while flying for the Royal Australian Air Force. Turner later came back to Sydney in 1901 and started working as a teller in Government Savings Bank of New South Wales. He continued working for the bank for 30 years until he retired. He later settled down in Manly, a beachside suburb in Northern Sydney with his third wife Edith Rebecca Susan. Edith was a widow, whose husband died because of a drowning accident. She was 20 years younger to Turner and had taken part in Australia’s first beauty contest. NSW cricketer Arthur Edward Albert Goldman was Turner’s brother-in-law.

5.  Life away from cricket: Turner worked at Joint Stock Bank and Government savings Bank. He also worked as a stock broker for some time. However, he was not successful in his cricket goods business in which he ventured later on. It went into huge losses during the 1893 depression. He hesitated in touring England to avoid facing his creditors. In 1896 he brought out a magazine Australia Cricket – A weekly record of the game. However, due to financial issues he stopped its publication just one and a half years later. He later also served as an administrator for Australia. During his tenure, Turner said that Australian pitches have changed their character over a period of time and bowlers who relied on accuracy found it difficult to succeed on such tracks. He was a correspondent for The Sun for some time and was also a radio broadcaster.

6.  Excellent Test record: Turner has a scintillating Test record for Australia. Although he played only 17 Test matches, he took 101 wickets in them at an astonishing average of 16.53. He took five wickets 11 times in an innings and 10 wickets twice in a match. He held many records in his era, a few of which have stood test of time:

A.  He holds the record of being the quickest bowler to reach 50 wickets. He took just six Tests to get to this amazing feat.

[Note: Vernon Philander is the second quickest to reach 50 Test wickets in seven Tests. He accomplished it in just 139 days]

B.  Another record that he held was getting a batsman stumped for a pair in Test cricket. His victim was Bobby Peel.  He held this unique record for a long time. More than a century later, Daniel Vettori equalled his record by getting Chris Mpofu stumped for a duck twice in the same Test.

C.  He took the wicket of Walter Read six times in successive innings. The record was broken by Imran Khan 95 years later when he picked the wicket of Dilip Vengsarkar seven times successively over a period of three years. Currently, Shane Warne holds the record for dismissing Ashwell Prince eight times on a trot.

D.  Turner was the first Australian bowler to reach 100 wickets in Tests.

E.  Although records of his times are not clear, still it’s believed that 42 per cent of his Test wickets were fetched by the ball shattering the stumps.

F.  Turner also holds the record for taking five wickets in most successive innings in Ashes. He achieved this tour de force in Ashes 1888 by picking five wickets in six consecutive innings.

7.  Amazing domestic record: In 155 First-Class matches, Turner took 933 wickets at a jaw-dropping average of mere 14.25. He took five wickets in an innings 102 times and 10 wickets in a match 32 times, which is simply phenomenal. Let’s take a look at his feats in domestic cricket:

 A.  Till date no bowler has been able to break Turner’s record of picking 314 wickets (he took it in 1888) in a single Australian First-Class season.

B.  He took a hat-trick against Victoria at Melbourne Cricket Ground by taking the wickets of Eugene Palmer, Tom Hoan, and John Trumble.

C.  He took 16 for 79 in a match against Arthur Shrewsbury’s XI.

D.  Although not known for his batting, Turner has two hundreds and 11 fifties in First-Class cricket.

8.  Probably the first bowler whose bowling speed was measured: Turner’s bowling speed was measured during Australia’s tour to England in 1893. It was measured at Woolwich Arsenal, which was an arms manufacturing factory-cum-research laboratory located at London. His speed was clocked at 55 miles per hour (88.5 km per hour approximately). Turner relied more on accuracy, variations and line & length to trap his victims rather than on raw speed.

9.  Animosity with George Giffin: Turner and his fellow cricketer George Giffin had a spat during their tour to England in 1893. The two did not remain on good terms for a long time. Giffin then decided not to allow Turner to be picked for Australia’s squad. The two however did patch up many years later.

10.  Help from WG Grace:  In 1893, playing at Old Trafford, Turner was batting alongside Jack Blackman when the former injured his finger. Here came legendary England batsman WG Grace and helped reset Turner’s finger. Turner resumed batting but was dismissed shortly. The match ended in a draw.

11.  Retirement and post-retirement life: Turner played his last Test in 1895. However, he continued playing some First-Class cricket till 1897. He returned 13 years later in 1910 to play in his testimonial match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. After Australia lost the Ashes in 1926, Turner published an instruction manual ‘The Quest for Bowlers.’

12.  Passing: Turner died on the New Year’s day of 1944, aged 81 years. His ashes were not claimed until 1969. The ashes were then brought to Bathurst and were buried at Bathurst Oval ground. The nameplate over his burial place has been engraved with his brilliant First-Class record.

13.  Legacy: Turner was included in an All-Time New South Wales XI on January 15, 2007. It was part of the NSW Cricket Team’s 150th anniversary. Six years later, Turner and Glenn McGrath were inducted in Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 2013.

14.  A common Birthday: There are many famous Australian celebrities who share Turner’s date and month of birth. One of them is former Australian cricketer Ian Craig. Acclaimed Australian novelist during the latter part of Turner’s life, Joan Lindsay too shares his birthday. Australian comedian Tim Ferguson and Aussie actress and record artist Gigi Edgley were also born on the same day. Besides, Hollywood actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who starred in The Dark Knight shares the cricketer’s birthday.

(Bhaskar Narayan is a reporter at CricketCountry and Criclife. He passionately follows the game and is a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar. His Twitter handle is @Cricopathy)