A hundred hundreds, 1983

Turner marches on


In retrospect, it almost seems that Glenn Turner was destined to score his 100th hundred on May 29. One would hardly say he had tried not to reach the milestone on some other day on some other ground. But, after a run of low scores, a gloriously fine Saturday at Worcester suddenly seemed the obvious setting.

It was also clear that Turner would not want to just score 100 in adding his name to the eighteen players who had previously registered the feat. He would surely want to do so in particularly glittering fashion. Securing 100 before lunch was the most obvious way. Almost inevitably, he achieved it.

The occasion seemed even more appropriate, with Billy Ibadulla on hand to come out to the middle with a celebratory gin and tonic. It was Ibadulla, once a coach in Dunedin, New Zealand, who had encouraged Turner to go to England and arrange a trial with Warwickshire. It was Warwickshire who had not been able to offer him a contract, and against whom Turner has always scored particularly heavily. And it was Warwickshire's bowlers who were now suffering again. With Turner 128 at lunch, the afternoon offered a further challenge; as the runs mounted up it became clear that he was after his 300. He reached it at 5.36 and at the declaration, six minutes later, was 311 not out.

The performance brought to mind other famous scorers of many runs, notably Bradman. Certainly the great Australian run-maker scored centuries far more often than Turner or anyone else, especially in Test matches. But it is difficult to think of any batsman, Bradman included, who could respond to particular challenges with more certainty and flair. There was another celebrated example of this in 1973 when Turner, touring England with the New Zealanders, achieved the rare feat (only six others have done it) of scoring 1,000 runs before the end of May. He needed 93 in his last possible innings, at Northampton; the wet wicket was, by his own judgement, dangerous, and the opposition bowlers included Bishen Bedi. There was also the factor that cricket is reckoned the last game on earth where such targets can be pursued with confidence. Yet when the Worcestershire captain, Norman Gifford, was told the previous evening that Turner needed 93 runs he said, simply, "If that's what he needs he'll get them." So he did, even though the first day's play was quite short and he had to resume the next morning needing another 23 runs.

There have also been six occasions when Turner has scored two hundreds in a match, most notably when New Zealand gained their first victory against Australia at Christchurch in 1974. The fall of wickets around him has seemed to provide extra stimulus, for he has twice carried his bat in Test matches and when he did it in a 1981 county match against Glamorgan, his unbeaten 141 out of 169 constituted a record 83.4 per cent of the total.

His initial season in first-class cricket, as a schoolboy in New Zealand, might not have promised such an abundance of runs. But it did indicate the character and the technique: once he scored just 3 runs in an entire morning session, and he recalls wryly that his defensive technique was so sound that he didn't even get any runs from snicks. Further evidence of character was to be found in his giving up his job as an insurance clerk and working in a bakery for ten months in order to save the money for his trip to England - a very big gamble in itself.

Several seasons were to pass before, quite suddenly, he shed his reputation for slow scoring. Having established himself with Worcestershire, he decided to try to gain - and give - some pleasure with his batting. He drove the ball with great power for one who, even in his mid-twenties, looked unusually slender and boyish. There was also an aesthetic quality in his stroke-play which made it quite distinctive. In silhouette there would have been no mistaking the front foot en point, the full follow-through of the bat without the wrists breaking and an overall impression of the bat being long and pointed like a sword.

Two points of technique contributed to this. Firstly, the hands were kept high up the bat handle, very much in the approved manner for those who wish to drive well. Secondly, the top hand was kept around the back of the handle, in a grip which has been termed the jug handle. To many observers, this should have militated against making the drive with a full follow-through. But Turner seemed to gain satisfaction from proving otherwise, a point he emphasised in calling his autobiography My Way.

Criticism was a most effective motivation, as were the sort of uncomplimentary comments which sometimes get passed on the field of play. In Turner's case this was the more so because of a distaste for coarse or unprofessional behaviour. His most striking (perhaps only) display of aggression in a Test match was the result of being talked at by the Australians, his answer being to hit off-spinner Ashley Mallett through and over the off-side for 8 fours in three overs.

An independent streak, and his belief in his monetary worth as a leading professional, caused him to fall out with the New Zealand cricket authorities and, sadly, to withdraw for some years from Test cricket. In 1978 he opted to continue playing for Worcestershire and help organise his benefit rather than tour with the visiting New Zealanders. Even to some of his colleagues and friends that decision seemed almost perverse, since his appearances in Test matches that summer would have been welcomed by cricket lovers in Worcestershire and might well have been to the advantage of his benefit. As much in his mind as his dispute with the New Zealand authorities was probably his belief that he should be seen to be working hard in support of his benefit committee.

Since then, while at the height of his powers, he has covered Test series in New Zealand as a television commentator instead of playing in them. This has deprived him of the opportunity of playing against the best Test teams, with the fastest bowlers of his time, a fact which has had to be entered as a caveat by critics ranking him among the greats. Nor, when scoring all the runs he did against West Indies in 1971-72 and against Australia in New Zealand in 1973-74, did he, other than very rarely, dominate the bowling.

Perhaps circumstances will still allow him to prove this point. If not, how will history assess him? A remarkable record-breaker? That seems a little unfair, as it ignores his match-winning efforts at all levels of cricket and, most particularly, it fails to recognise the aesthetic element in his batting. Yet, however unsatisfactory, that at the moment is as it may be.

At the end of the English season of 1982, Turner himself viewed his innings at Worcester on May 29 as the most satisfying of all his achievements. In fact, though it hardly seemed so at the time, he is aware now that the day could have been even more momentous. He could have passed the highest score ever made in a day (345 by C. G. MacArtney for the Australians against Nottinghamshire in 1921) had Worcestershire not declared when he was on 311, with 48 minutes of the day remaining.

© John Wisden & Co