Glenn Turner © Getty Images
Glenn Turner © Getty Images

Glenn Turner, born May 26, 1947, was a champion New Zealand batsman. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the career of the man who was the first cricketer to establish New Zealand in global cricket.

Till the 1960s, New Zealand were a team of gallant cricketers who played well, competed hard, and often pulled off brilliant individual performances.

What they lacked was a cricketer who would be professional enough to transform these efforts into victories. They had some outstanding cricketers in Bert Sutcliffe and John R Reid, but they needed someone who could become the face of New Zealand cricket in front of foreign media.

Glenn Turner was that man.

Even in absolute terms, Turner’s numbers are quite impressive. He had scored 2,991 Test runs at 44.64 with 7 hundreds, of which 2,828 at 45.61 were as an opener. Of all New Zealand openers, his runs are just behind John Wright’s, and his average is the best among those who have scored 2,000 Test runs or more. If all batsmen are considered, he falls behind Martin Crowe and Mark Richardson, though, in terms of batting average.

Turner’s real greatness lies elsewhere, though. In the pre-Turner era, New Zealand had played 83 Tests, of which they had won four, drawn 38, and lost 41. Turner’s performances changed things around significantly — as New Zealand won 11 Tests in 14 years, losing 26 and drawing 30. The win-loss ratio, which was 9 per cent previously, had gone up to 42 per cent in Turner’s era.

It should also be remembered that Turner had scored 1,598 ODI runs at 47 with 3 hundreds. This puts him at the top of all New Zealand batsmen with 1,500 runs. As an opener he had scored 1,197 runs at 49.87 which, when put a 1,000-run cut-off, puts him next to only Hashim Amla.

It was as a First-Class giant, though, that Turner is most remembered. He scored 34,346 runs at 49.70 with 103 hundreds (as many as 72 of them for Worcestershire, a record bettered by only Graeme Hick) — thereby becoming one of only four non-English batsmen to score a hundred hundreds (the others being Don Bradman, Viv Richards, and Zaheer Abbas). He is also one of two post-war batsmen to score a thousand First-Class runs in an English season by end of May (and the first one in 35 years), and had scored hundreds against all 17 English counties (including his own county Worcestershire in 1973; Durham was not a part of the Championship till 1991).

Turner’s appetite for runs was insatiable. With a pale, slight, almost sickly frame (and the rather unusual middle name of Maitland), Turner did not inspire awe among his oppositions by virtue of his physique. However, when he took up the bat, his serious, unrelenting approach towards batting wore them down. He thrived on strokes played through the V, and having played most of his cricket in New Zealand and England, he was a champion against swing bowling.

As Christopher Martin-Jenkins said, he was ‘unswervingly single-minded in his pursuit of runs’ and ‘unashamedly ambitious’. Even when he wasn’t playing, or wasn’t even at the nets, Turner used to bat from a very early age: “I used to practise in front of the mirror the forward-defensive, the backward defensive, the drive, the various shots. I did that as soon as I could hold the bat.”

The move to Worcestershire

When the amateurish New Zealand board frustrated him by being completely oblivious to improving the facilities and infrastructure, he sought ways to express his professionalism and fierce appetite for runs. He made his debut for Otago, and played for three seasons without a single hundred in 18 matches.

Agitated by this and encouraged by Warwickshire’s ‘Billy’ Ibadulla, he set sail for England with something in mind that no New Zealand cricketer had ever done before — that too at the age of 21. In Turner’s own words, “In those days the New Zealanders who played county cricket lived in England. I was the first to travel back and forth and play. You could only do it by sea, and it took very long. I was probably the first real professional in that regard.”

Turner quit his insurance job, and took up a night job in a bakery at £22 a week for basic survival (and to save money for the trips back home, season after season). He had a heartbreak of sorts even before his first net practice was over at Edgbaston: Mike Smith informed him that they wouldn’t be able to hire his services, as Warwickshire had already had their quota of overseas players fulfilled. He impressed everyone at the nets, though.

Warwickshire, willingly, but somewhat regretfully at having offered contracts to overseas players before they saw Turner, arranged for him to have trials with Worcestershire, Lancashire, Middlesex, and Surrey, in that order. It took two days of nets for Turner to get an offer from Worcestershire — a bonding that would last a decade and a half. Turner played for them from 1968 to 1982, and topped a thousand runs every season.

Being ‘the first real professional’, however, hurt his image rather surprisingly. He was even called selfish in certain circles. An agitated Turner later commented: “I was supposed to be playing for the dirty dollar — not many, I might add. I had to cross over from amateurism to professionalism, and there was a strong feeling among the administration and our country as a whole that you ought not to play for money. I had to break down a lot of barriers. And assumptions were made. One of those assumptions made was about selfishness, which I totally deny.”

He set sail for England, and won his Worcestershire cap in 1968. He made his County debut against the visiting Pakistanis at New Road. He scored 14 and 0, but surprised everyone (including himself, possibly) by picking up 1 for 23 and 3 for 18 (which included even the prized scalp of Hanif Mohammad) with his off-breaks. The horror run continued as he went on to follow his 14, 0, 0, 5, 5, 5 which took his Worcestershire tally to 29 from 6 innings.

Thereafter, Turner put up a few impressive shows (59 and 71 not out against Leicestershire at New Road; 63 and 94 against Glamorgan, also at New Road; and 66 and 61 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston) — but that elusive hundred did not come until late in the season — against Middlesex at New Road. When he reached 90 he crossed 1,000 runs for the season, and then — in a rain-affected match — he ended up scoring 106 not out.

Test debut

Now that he had the ball rolling, he followed it up with a dazzling 167 for Otago against Wellington back home at Dunedin in a Plunket Shield match. The one innings got him through to the South Island side, and soon he got to play the touring West Indians at Dunedin. He scored a fearless 123, and his next First-Class match turned out to be his Test debut —against the same side at Auckland.

Turner fell to Wes Hall for a duck in his first innings, but after New Zealand had secured a 47-run lead, he scored 40 in the second innings, adding 112 with his captain Graham Dowling. The match was not saved, though, as the West Indians pulled off a sensational chase of 346, thanks to an aggressive 168 by Seymour Nurse.

Turner top-scored in the first innings of the next Test at Wellington with 74, which took New Zealand to within 15 runs of the West Indies score. West Indies were bowled out for 148, and New Zealand leveled the series with an emphatic 6-wicket victory. In the drawn third Test at Christchurch, Turner scored two crucial knocks of 30 and 38 as New Zealand clung on to a draw, and ending the series with a respectable 1-1.

Back to England

The next season saw Turner come back to England — but for the visiting New Zealand side. He began the season playing for Worcestershire, though, against the visiting West Indians, and played for his County before the national side grabbed hold of him. He scored his first Lord’s hundred — 123 against Middlesex at Lord’s — and was caught in a loyalty conflict of sorts when he played against Worcestershire next.

England duly thrashed the tourists 2-0. In the first Test at Lord’s Turner stamped his appearance on the international scene with an authority. After England set New Zealand a virtually impossible target of 362 on wet conditions against Derek Underwood, Turner virtually batted alone, putting up a supreme display of technique and temperament.

Turner became the youngest batsman in history (at 22 years 63 days, beating Warwick Armstrong’s record in 1902-03) and the first New Zealand player to carry a bat through an innings. Underwood kept denting the other end, picking up 7 for 32 — while Turner played 226 balls on his way to an obdurate 43 not out as New Zealand crashed to 131. He is still the youngest player, and the only New Zealand batsman to have achieved the feat. We shall, however, come back to carrying the bat through an innings later.

Turner went past the 1,000-mark in the English season again — and was picked on the twin tours of India and Pakistan – a tour that would change his life in more ways than one (“many other interesting things happened that would play a big part in my future life”).

The ton and the knot

Batting in India, especially in September (which meant that the pitches, still containing moisture, were not firm enough) against quality spinners was a challenge unlike any that Turner had ever faced. Though New Zealand took a 73-run first-innings lead in the first Test at Bombay, Bishan Singh Bedi and EAS Prasanna took 8 wickets apiece to win the Test by 60 runs. Turner scored 24 and 5, and had a tough time adjusting to the conditions and the completely different genre of bowling.

Bombay was eventful for Turner, though: Turner turns (if you mind the alliteration) shy when he recollects, rather fondly: “I met my wife [Sukhinder Kaur Gill] in Bombay at an official function. And then we courted for three years. That’s a great old term, ‘courting’. And we had to do it quietly, of course, because you would know the difficulties one might have with Indian parents. She was advised by her father that people in the West don’t take marriage seriously.”

Note: On migrating to New Zealand, Sukhinder Kaur Gill (later Dame Sukhi Turner) joined the Green Party, and was elected the Mayor of Dunedin in 1995, 1998, and 2001. She has subsequently designated to a Dame Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit, and also received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman.

Coming back to the husband, he did a much better job, top-scoring with 57 in the second innings of the next Test at Nagpur — a Test that Hedley Howarth won convincingly for New Zealand, thereby squaring the series.

Turner had to face ignominy of sorts in the third Test at Hyderabad. In the rain-affected Test, New Zealand were bowled out for 181, but Dayle Hadlee and Bob Cunis skittled out the hosts for 89 (they were 49 for 9 at one stage). As time ran out for New Zealand due to the rain, Turner was demoted in the batting-order due to his defensive style — to No. 9.

Turner was not amused: “They wanted to whack the new ball and I was seen as too defensive. I said afterwards, ‘Well you only had to ask me.’ But no one had bothered.” New Zealand almost pocketed the series, though, as Dayle Hadlee and Cunis had them reeling at 76 for seven when time ran out.

Turner missed the first two Tests in Pakistan, but was finally fit for the third Test at Dacca with New Zealand 1-0 up in the series. They needed to seal a draw to clinch the series, and Turner, with a marathon 445-minute 110 (after remaining 99 not out at stumps), guided them to exactly that. Not a bad occasion to bring up your maiden Test hundred!

Ten tons in a season

Turner decided to play aggressively in the next English season (1970) for Worcestershire, and the change of approach reaped rich rewards. As Tom Graveney said, “He suddenly found the confidence to play his shots”. He went on to score 9 hundreds, and looked good for 10 in a season — when Clive Lloyd ran him out for 99 at New Road. The unperturbed Turner commented “It was not a ludicrous run — it was just that man Clive Lloyd!”

He was not to be denied, though: he reached there with a three off Ibadullah against Warwickshire — the county that had let him go once — at New Road. Turner scored 133*, and Cyril Walters’ record of nine centuries — a Worcestershire record that had stood since 1933 — was finally emulated. Since then, only Hick has equaled the tally. He scored 2,379 runs (the most runs by any player in the Championship that year) in the season at 61, and Wisden did not think twice before nominating him as a Player-of-the-Year.

Double-hundreds in the Caribbean

The West Indies tour of 1971-72 turned out to be a watershed mark in Turner’s career. On the second tour match he got his first double-hundred of the tour — a formidable 202 against Board President’s XI at Montego Bay, putting up 268 for the opening stand with Dowling.

The next match was the first Test at Sabina Park, where Turner decided to take things in his own hands. He was certainly not willing to let the debutant Lawrence Rowe (who scored 214 and 100 not out) hog all the limelight alone. Up against West Indies’ 508 for 4, Turner batted on, and on, and on, and on… carrying his bat again for a 572-minute essay of 223 out of a team score of 386. From 108 for 5 he helped New Zealand evade the follow-on.

Turner became only the fourth cricketer (after Bill Woodfull, Len Hutton, and Bill Lawry) to carry his bat through a Test innings twice. His 223 not out still remains the highest score by any batsman while carrying his bat (the previous record being Bill Brown’s 206 at Lord’s in 1938).

Turner scored 95 in the third Test at Queen’s Park Oval, but that turned out to be a mere appetiser. Up against Guyana’s 493 for 4 at Bourda, Turner scored a masterful 259, and worse — he never looked like getting out. Things looked really ominous for the West Indians.

The fourth Test, also at Bourda, was another run-fest: after West Indies declared at 365 for 7, Turner and Terry Jarvis batted for 9 hours before Jarvis eventually fell for 182. They had put up 387 for the opening partnership — then the second-highest opening stand, after Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy’s 413. Turner eventually finished with a colossal 759-ball 259 with 22 fours.

New Zealand returned with the five Test series leveled 0-0. Turner easily topped the batting charts with 672 runs at 96. On the entire tour, he scored 1,214 runs at 86.71 from 11 matches, and all his 4 hundreds were converted to double-hundreds. His superlative performances made him the New Zealand Almanack Player-of-the-Year.

Thousand by May

Turner continued with his mindless accumulation of runs. He bettered his 1970 tally of 2,379 with 2,416 at 67.11 in 1973 — this time scoring ‘only’ 9 hundreds. It was the beginning of the season, though, that found Turner a spot in the annals of the sport.

It did help him, though, that he toured England for New Zealand that season. He began with 41 and 151* for the tourists against DH Robins’ XI at Eastbourne, 143 against his own county at New Road, and 85 against Hampshire at Bournemouth. Then followed a minor string of failures — 7 against Kent at Canterbury, and 8 and 17* against Gloucestershire at Bristol. The average seemed to taper out, and a thousand before end of May did not seem feasible.

He was not likely to give up, though: he came back strongly into contention — with 81 and 13 against Somerset at Taunton, 53 and 44 against Glamorgan at Cardiff, and 153* and 3 against MCC at Lord’s. As May closed in, Turner kept on scoring as well: he got 2 and 66* against Derbyshire at Derby, and 30 and 10* against Leicestershire at Grace Road.

As Worcestershire took field against Northamptonshire at Northampton on May 30, Turner needed to score 93 within the first two days to achieve the feat – against Bishan Bedi and Mushtaq Mohammad. He lost his partner John Murray soon, but Bevan Congdon, the captain, walked out, and on a rain-affected day, New Zealand finished on 135 for 1 — with Turner still 23 short of the mark.

Turner duly reached there next morning, and finished with 111 for good measure. He finished the month with 1,018 runs. He became the seventh batsman to reach a thousand First-Class runs by May, and the first since Second World War (the last batsman was Bill Edrich in 1938). The only other one to do this in the past forty years has been Hick. Referring to the achievement, Basil Easterbrook wrote in Wisden that Turner “has scaled this improbable Parnassus and given cricket in New Zealand an immeasurable lift.”

Taming the Aussies

Turner’s greatest batting performance – his magnum opus — possibly came against the Australians next season at Christchurch. The Test, in Turner’s own words, “helped our cricket come of age. It gave us that belief. It also gave a boost to the game in New Zealand at that time.”

After Congdon bravely put Australia in, Richard Hadlee, Richard Collinge and Congdon bowled out the tourists for a paltry 223. Max Walker and Geoff Dymock hit back for Australia, and New Zealand kept on losing wickets on a consistent basis. Turner stood among the ruins, scoring 101 in 260 balls (after remaining 99 not out overnight — again) with nine fours, and took New Zealand to 255 — when nobody else had reached 25.

His job was not done, though. After the Hadlee brothers combined to bowl out Australia for 259, Walker hit back again, reducing New Zealand to 62 for three. With 166 still to get, Turner knew that he could not afford to get out: he batted on tirelessly, scoring 110 not out — and guiding New Zealand to their first Test victory against Australia. In the process he became the first New Zealand batsman to score two hundreds in a Test. Turner later called it ‘probably the most significant contribution I made’.

Championship and Captaincy

In 1974 Turner guided Worcestershire to their first Championship Title in nine years. He scored 1,332 runs at 60.54 in the season. He led New Zealand for the first time in the 1975 World Cup, and scored 171 not out against East Africa on his World Cup (and ODI captaincy) debut. This remained the highest ODI score till 1983. He also scored a 114 not out against India, and finished the World Cup with 333 runs at 166.50 — topping both the runs and averages charts, and was the only one with two hundreds in the tournament.

He stood down from ODI captaincy next year. He captained New Zealand in 7 ODIs, in which he scored 515 runs at 128.75. Of all ODI captains with over 500 runs, he has easily the best average in history — ahead of AB de Villiers’ 1,019 runs at 92.63.

[Note: The numbers have changed since this article was written.]

Turner was handed over the helm of the Test side in the 1975-76 series against India. He lost his first Test as captain — Prasanna routed them at Auckland — but he managed to put the pressure back on the tourists with a 117 at Christchurch, and eventually scored a crucial 64 to help square the series at Wellington.

He took New Zealand to Pakistan and lost 0-2, and to India and lost 0-2 again. However, he batted beautifully throughout the series, scoring 64 at Bombay and a match-saving performance of 113 and 35 at Kanpur. He was the Indian Cricketer-of-the-Year in 1977.

Turner resigned as the captain of New Zealand over a row with the Board after a two-Test home series loss against Australia – a decision that brought his Test career to an abrupt end, and he returned to County Championship, and declared himself unavailable for the subsequent Test series.

Back to England

Later in 1977, Turner achieved another record against Glamorgan at Swansea. After Glamorgan amassed 309, Turner went out to open the batting for Worcestershire. He scored 141, which was normal by his standards. The unusual bit was the fact that the second-highest was 7, and the other ten batsmen managed only 14 scoring shots between them. Worcestershire collapsed to 169, and Turner’s 83.43 per cent still remains the highest percentage of a team total in a completed innings in First-Class cricket history. A confused Turner later said “As each of them came out, in what looked like a disaster area, I told them there was nothing wrong with the pitch, but they didn’t seem to believe me!”

Worcestershire announced Turner’s benefit season in 1979, and the venture raised £21,103 for him. The very next season he topped the county charts again in 1979 with 1,669 runs. In the World Cup that followed, Turner scored 176 at 88.00 with an 83 not out against India at Headingley. He was fourth on the runs chart and second on the averages, and after two World Cups he led both the runs (509) and averages (127.25) columns, with no one in vicinity.

A hundred hundreds

Turner was appointed the captain of Worcestershire in 1981, but eventually conceded the spot to Phil Neale. Then, in 1982, the countdown to the hundredth hundred began. When he eventually scored his 99th hundred — a violent 239 not out against Oxford University — everyone waited in eager anticipation for the landmark.

Playing against Warwickshire (oh, the irony!) at New Road, Turner launched a furious onslaught on a side that contained bowlers of the calibre of Bob Willis and Gladstone Small. He reached his hundred in no time, then his double hundred, went past his highest score of 259, then past Frederick Bowley’s Worcestershire record of 276.

His 311* in 339 minutes remains the highest score by a Worcestershire opener, and remained the highest for any Worcestershire batsman till Hick went past him – twice. He batted so fast that after Neale declared at 501 for one, the Warwicks had enough time to finish the day at 30 for 1.

It turned out to be his last season for Worcestershire. Turner signed off like a champion with 1,171 runs at 90.07, scoring 5 hundreds in the process.

Comeback

After being blissfully out of international cricket for four years, Turner suddenly decided to make a comeback — that too in ODIs. He crossed 20 in each of his seven innings after his comeback, and then, out of nowhere, scored 88 at Auckland, 94 at Wellington, and 34 at Christchurch, top-scoring in each innings, as New Zealand gave England a 3-0 thumping.

Sri Lanka were the next tourists, and Turner did not want to miss out on being a bit of history, and came back to Test cricket after six years. He did not do much of note in the Tests, but scored 140 in the last ODI of the series at Auckland. He retired from First-Class cricket shortly afterwards.

His last appearance was in the World Cup of 1983 — probably based on his past performances in the tournament. At 36, he was definitely not at his best — scoring only 103 runs at 17.17. However, even after his dismal performance, he was the second in the history of World Cup Cricket in terms of runs — having scored 612 at 61.20, second to only Richards’ 622 at 62.20.

He also holds a curious record. By playing 41 Tests and 41 ODIs, he holds the record most international matches for anyone who has played the same number of Tests and ODIs.

Post-retirement

Turner went to Australia as the manager of New Zealand in 1985-86 — the only time New Zealand had won a series in the country. He had a second stint as a coach-cum-manager about a decade later. He was, till recently, the Chairman of Selectors for New Zealand and has subsequently been appointed, along with Martin Crowe, a ‘high-performance talent scout’ by NZC.

He really believes in players being ‘skill-fit’, and is firm on his point: “The more time you spend at the crease, the more you get fit to do that job. For bowlers you have to be bowling-fit. Guys now don’t bowl nearly as many overs as they used to. They do a lot more work in the gym. I am yet to be convinced that it works more than being able to take your shirt off at the beach and show off.”

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)