Mike Turner 1934-2015 July 21, 2015

Pioneer of one-day cricket dies

Mike Turner (middle) was a central figure in the history of Leicestershire cricket © Leicestershire CCC

Cricket has lost one of its greatest friends with the death of Mike Turner. He was a player, administrator, fund raiser and mentor but, despite almost 60 years in the game, remains a largely unsung hero of the sport.

If Turner, a gentle man perhaps best suited to a background role in administration, made an unlikely saviour, Leicester made an unlikely location for a miracle.

But Mike Turner changed the face of world cricket forever when he introduced the Midland Knock-Out Cup to Grace Road in 1962. The competition lasted only one season, but might represent the single greatest change the game has ever undergone.

The Midland Knock-Out Cup - a 65-overs a side tournament - was the first limited-overs competition involving first-class sides. Its success led directly to the Gillette Cup - which is generally acknowledged as the first limited-overs cricket tournament - which started in 1963 and laid the foundations for many of the innovations that followed: Twenty20 cricket; Packer; ODIs; floodlights; power-plays; coloured clothing. The roots of them all are in Leicester.

At the time, Turner was a young, energetic and enthusiastic secretary (today's equivalent of a chief executive) of Leicestershire. Aged only 27, he had the vision - and the cheek - to question the traditional order but also the skills to organise a successful alternative.

"You have to remember the context," Turner told Spin magazine in 2009. "The game was in the doldrums at the time. There had been a post-war boom but, by the 1960s, spectator numbers were falling. Membership numbers were falling. We were worried about the game's future.

"I saw an opportunity. All the county secretaries were at The Oval drawing up the fixture list for the 1962 season. As each fixture was allocated, they were written on to a huge blackboard on the wall of the room.

"Anyway, I just happened to notice that several midlands clubs had a gap in their schedule. So I invited Derbyshire, Northants and Nottinghamshire to take part in a limited-overs, knock-out competition.

"I saw a nice little trophy in a second-hand shop and had it re-plated and engraved. I've no idea what happened to it; I haven't seen it from the moment I presented it to Northants. I thought the competition would run every year.

"It was very revolutionary. There had been talk of one-day cricket, but this was the first limited-overs cricket. Most league cricket was played on one day, but involved a tea-time declaration, while the Rothmans Cavaliers' (the equivalent of the Lashings team) games were also declaration affairs. But mid-week league cricket had been played over 20-overs for years and had always been very popular.

"The attendance was relatively good and we received very good coverage in the press. Crucially Gordon Ross (an influential journalist) came to the game and took a great deal of interest. He soon became the PR man for Gillette."

Six months later, the TCCB (the forerunner of the ECB) unveiled their plans for the Gillette Cup (which later became the NatWest and then the C&G Trophy). The rules were strikingly similar: 65 overs aside and a maximum 15 overs per bowler. They would be refined over time, but Turner's influence was stamped all over it.

"It wasn't just the spectators that one-day cricket attracted," Turner said. "It was the sponsorship. The Gillette Cup was the first major county sponsorship and was soon followed by the John Player League. As a game was televised every Sunday by the BBC, it meant we suddenly had advertising around county grounds. It was a great deal for the game.

"Did I create a monster? I've reflected on that a great deal. It was the right thing for the game at the time, but there are alarm bells ringing now. The growth of Twenty20 and players declaring themselves unavailable for Test cricket does worry me. I fear for a dilution of Test cricket."

Francis Michael Turner was born in Leicester on August 8, 1934. His relationship with the club that defined so much of his life began in 1946 when he first stepped on to the Grace Road playing surface, though at the time it was his school playing field. Less than 20 years later, he had negotiated the purchase of the site with his old headmaster and Leicestershire had a new home. Grace Road cost £24,000 in 1965.

He dreamed of playing cricket for a living. But, after joining the staff in 1951 and playing 10 first-class games as a legspinning allrounder, he concluded that he could contribute more in administration and, aged just 25, was appointed secretary of a club that most thought was slipping out of the first-class game.

"When I was appointed secretary of Leicestershire in 1960, I was told that the foreseeable life of the club was five years," he said. "I was only 25 - still the youngest secretary in the game's history - and it was a difficult time. But we had a fantastic run.

"I decided we needed a figurehead senior pro to lead the side. I wrote to Tom Graveney in the early 60s and invited him to captain us. He wrote me a lovely letter. He said I had made him a very good offer, but that he couldn't face playing out of such a dilapidated pavilion and didn't want to be at a club where he got splinters every time he went for a shower. It made me realise that I really had to do something about the pavilion. We built the new one in 1966, signed Tony Lock in 1965 and Ray Illingworth before the 1969 season."

Leicestershire enjoyed their golden years under Turner's astute guidance. They won their first trophy in 1972 - the Benson and Hedges Cup - before in 1975 they secured their first County Championship title as well as recapturing the Benson and Hedges Cup and defeating the touring Australian side. As well as buying the ground and building a new pavilion, he also raised the funds for the indoor school which was opened in 1993.

Turner's eye for a fine player helped the club attract such world-class talents as Andy Roberts and David Gower, who he rated as his finest signing, while the likes of Jonathan Agnew, Peter Willey, James Whitaker, Nick Cook, Phil DeFreitas, Chris Lewis all developed, in part, at the club.

A measure of his success is that when he retired as secretary in 1993 after 43 years with the club and 33 as secretary, Leicestershire were so well managed that they went on to win the County Championship in 1996 and 1998. He was awarded a testimonial by the club in 1985, was made a vice-president in 1994 - the year he was also awarded an MBE - and became a director in 2003 when the club became an Independent Provident Society. He stepped down in 2007.

While some recent developments years pained him - he supported the campaign to oust Neil Davidson as chairman in 2010 - he remained a regular visitor to the ground and a wise sounding board for many in the game. Several generations of players, administrators, umpires and journalists were grateful for a kind word here or some wise advice there. Leicestershire's new chief executive, Wasim Khan, was among many to hail him as a "tremendous support," while former ECB chief executive, David Collier, said "he taught me a great deal."

Many clubs were grateful for Turner's advice on obtaining Grant Aid. Until very recently, the ECB relied on him to update their booklet on the subject and sent it to the 8,500 member clubs of the National Cricket Association. He was also still offering advice to clubs by telephone until very recently.

"The gospel truth is that I've brought in £26 million for first-class clubs in terms of successful grant applications," Turner said. "And I've helped bring in £15m for the little clubs who want to extend their pavilion or something like that. Everywhere I go I see something I've been involved in. It's very satisfying."

Away from cricket, Turner raised a great deal of money for charities. He was Chairman of Charities at Glenfield Hospital and helped raise £1.4m for a breast care centre that was opened in 2001. He died peacefully in his sleep on the early hours of July 21 and leaves three children: Michael, Helen and Susan. His wife, Pat, died last year. The flag at Grace Road was flying at half-mast on Tuesday.

"I retired in 1993, but I only live over the road so I pop in all the time," he said. "I was thrilled the indoor school was named the Mike Turner Cricket Centre. I loved Leicestershire and I loved cricket so I enjoyed it all enormously. I have been very fortunate."

The game may reflect that it was fortunate to have him, too.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo