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The tale of a Terror

Charlie Turner, who enters the Australian cricket Hall of Fame today, was among the finest bowlers of his time

Ric Sissons

February 4, 2013

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Charlie Turner
Charlier Turner: possibly even better than Spofforth © Getty Images
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Charlie Turner is to be inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame today.

Between 1887 and 1895, in 17 Tests, all against England, Turner took 101 wickets at an average of 16.53. That places him top of the all-time Australian Test bowling averages (among bowlers who have taken at least 50 wickets).

Known as The Terror, Turner's average of 16.53 is head and shoulders among those who have taken 100 wickets for Australia; his nearest rival is Alan Davidson, with 20.53.

In terms of economy rate, he stands a fraction ahead (1.93) of Bill O'Reilly on 1.94. On strike rate he tops again, with 51.2, a shade ahead of Glenn McGrath. Also, on highest number of wickets per Test - 5.94 - his nearest rival is O'Reilly with 5.33.

Turner took his first 50 Test wickets in a record six matches. He was the first Australian bowler to capture 100 Test wickets, and remains the only one to take 100 wickets in an Australian season.

Turner's figures are on par with those of SF Barnes (189 wickets at 16.43), and only bettered by George Lohmann's (112 wickets at 10.75). Lohmann, though, had the benefit of a series against a very weak South African side. Turner and Lohmann played against each other on many occasions and were always considered equals.

Sporting Life once wrote a typical Turner victim had been "skittled by a sonnet", reflecting the opinion of England captain Archie MacLaren, who described Turner's bowling as "poetry in motion".

Sir Stanley Jackson, another England captain and an excellent judge, wrote in Wisden, "I always regarded Charles Turner as the best medium-paced bowler I ever played against."

In Australia, for most of his first-class playing career, Turner was compared to Fred Spofforth, Australia's first great bowler. Australian opening batsman Alec Bannerman, who played with both, reckoned Turner "could turn the ball on a good wicket better than Spofforth and for this reason met with more success on Australian wickets, and equally as great success on English ones".

In 33 Years of Cricket Frank Iredale argued that Charlie faced a "harder task" than Spofforth, with fewer rabbits to bowl against, and improved wickets due to the liberal use of Bulli soil in Australia. Iredale concluded that "on all wickets, good and bad, and on English and Australian, Turner was the greatest bowler we ever produced".

Turner opened the bowling, delivering right-arm medium-pace with a low, square-on action off about seven yards. In 1888, at the Woolwich Arsenal, his delivery speed was measured at 55mph. He described himself as a fingerspinner, and was renowned for being able to bring the ball back sharply into a right-hand batsman. His great variety - his yorker was a feared delivery - was his strength.

He may have bowled like an English professional, but Turner batted like an Australian amateur. A dasher, he only scored two first-class centuries, but was good enough to open for Australia on occasion.

Turner was born in Bathurst on November 16, 1862. The Turners had arrived from England in 1842 as free settlers. They were farmers from Hertfordshire. After a few years they were drawn to Bathurst by gold. Turner's mother's side traced their origins to convicts and soldiers on the second and third Fleets.

His grandfather and father kept hotels. It was in one of those that Turner discovered he could impart vicious spin on a billiard ball, which he went on to apply to a cricket ball. He had the benefit of very strong hands and fingers; it was said that he could crush an orange to pulp between his first and second fingers.

Turner came to the fore in December 1881, against Shaw and Shrewsbury's All-England XI. The 19-year-old came on as first change for 22 of Bathurst and finished with 7 for 33. In the All-England second innings Charlie claimed all ten wickets for 36. The local papers hailed him as the new Spofforth.

In July 1882, Charlie married Sarah Emily Matthews - known as Em. The couple moved to Sydney the following year, where Turner had a job at the Australian Joint Stock Bank. Tragically Em died in childbirth soon after, leaving Turner devastated.

It was not until January 1887, in Sydney that he made his Test debut. He took 6 for 15, bowling unchanged with Jack Ferris, as England collapsed for 45. It was Spofforth's last Test. One great bowler departed, another emerged.

Turner and Ferris - the Terror and the Fiend - were the first great Australian opening bowling partnership. They must also rank as the smallest opening bowling combination in Test history: Turner was 5ft 9 and Ferris only 5ft 5.

Turner was a certainty for the 1888 tour of England. In the Lord's Test match he took 5 for 27 and 5 for 36, helping Australia win their first Test in England since the victory at The Oval in 1882. It was also their first-ever victory at Lord's.

On that tour Turner played in 39 matches, missing only one, and bowled a total of 10,359 deliveries, taking 314 wickets at an average of 11.38. In matches now deemed first-class, he took 283 wickets at 11.68. He also became the first bowler to take 250 wickets in an English season.

He toured again in 1890 and 1893, with success, although the latter was a very acrimonious tour, one that Turner described as "the most unpleasant and unsatisfactory trip to the old country that I have ever undertaken". He singled out George Giffen as "a difficult man… when a man is too conceited and plays for himself instead of his side he does a lot of harm".

The 1894-95 Test series in Australia was Turner's last. With the series tied at two games apiece, the scene was set for the decisive fifth Test in Melbourne. In the Sydney Test in February 1895, Turner had taken 3 for 18 and 4 for 33.

The cricket world was shocked when he was dropped from the side: fellow selectors Giffen and Jack Blackham voted him out. Australia lost the Melbourne Test and the series. Andrew Stoddart, the England captain, said the decision to drop Turner was vital to England's success.

Turner never played for Australia again, although there were desperate last-minute efforts to get him to tour England in 1896. His import business, selling cricket goods, failed in the economic depression of the 1890s. One of the reasons Arthur Shrewsbury claimed Turner would not tour in 1896 was that he owed money in England.

In late 1896, Turner launched a magazine - Australian Cricket - A Weekly Record of the Game. In January 1897, after 18 issues, the publishers pulled the plug.


The Australian squad touring England in 1893
The 1893 Australian team that toured England (Turner, middle row, extreme right) © Getty Images
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Turner and his second wife, Harriett Emmy, and their daughter moved to Gympie, a gold mining town in Queensland, where he set up as a sharebroker. He played for a combined Queensland-NSW side against the 1897-98 England tourists with little success. By 1901, he and his family were back in Sydney, and he eventually found employment at the Government Savings Bank, where he worked until he was forced to retire in 1931. Fellow employees recalled "CTB" as "a kind gentleman".

In the 1920s Turner also wrote about cricket for the Sun newspaper in Sydney. He covered the Adelaide Test in 1921 and reconciled with Giffen.

In the mid-1920s Turner made some of the first-ever radio broadcasts about cricket. He was also at the nets to see the first appearances in Sydney of Don Bradman and Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly recalled that while others told him he had to change his grip, Turner urged him to ignore that advice.

Following his retirement Turner and Edith, his third wife (his second wife had died in 1909), lived in Manly in Sydney. Turner died on January 1, 1944, aged 81. After his cremation his ashes sat unclaimed on a shelf at the undertaker's for 25 years before being returned to Bathurst due to the efforts of cricket writers David Frith and Jack Gunning. Ten years later the remains were buried at the Bathurst sports ground, where a small plaque marks the spot.

In life, Turner was a quiet, modest man. His recognition has been long overdue.

Ric Sissons is an award-winning cricket historian. His latest book is The Terror - Charlie Turner, Australia's Greatest Bowler

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by ygkd on (February 5, 2013, 23:00 GMT)

I was rather disappointed in the induction during the AB Medal ceremony. With all due respect to Glenn McGrath, the celebration of his career went on for many times longer than Turner's. Given that the author of this piece has written a biography on the bloke, surely there was sufficient material on him to have evened that out somewhat. And that is why this article is important and why I hope the book is a success. The cult-of-the-recent means cricket history is being too-often down-played even when presented with a perfect opportunity to recitify that, such as with the AB medal night. Turner was said to be on a par with SF Barnes and Barnes was in Benaud's Greatest XI. Surely Turner deserved a few more minutes in the modern lime-light.

Posted by ygkd on (February 5, 2013, 22:49 GMT)

I had a similar image of stop-watches held by top-hat-wearing, moustache-twirling toffs.... but I still wonder if that is about how accurate the measurement was. Two points immediately come to mind - the measurement was probably not quite as the ball left the hand as with modern speed-guns and hitting a wire would surely have to slow it down somewhat. Therefore, even if the time taken between the two wires was correctly measured, and there can be no guarantee on that, the process must have had a fair margin of error. It is obvious from the result that Turner was not of express pace, but then we already know that from contemporary accounts. At that time, bowlers of medium-paced off-breaks were common enough. One wonders whether his yorker was quicker than that. The whole use of the chronograph begs more questions as to how the wires were set up and whether or not a bouncing ball or a full-toss was employed.

Posted by bestbuddy on (February 5, 2013, 20:32 GMT)

While he was undoubtedly a deadly bowler in his day, one has to take these stats with a pinch of salt. In those days of uncovered, unrolled pitches with uneven grass covering, merely bowling a tight line and length and having a couple variations, at the same pace most spinners bowl these days could net you dozens of wickets; far more impressive were the batting performances of those days, to keep out bowlers like this, where one could not judge the ball until it had pitched

Posted by Meety on (February 5, 2013, 3:09 GMT)

@Raghu Sundaram - thanks for that, (saved me looking it up), but I knew Grimmett had a far superior wickets per match ratio to Tiger. @RicSissons on (February 4, 2013, 9:03 GMT) - top comment! I had a mental picture of some bloke in a moustache & top hat with a stop watch!!!!!

Posted by Rowayton on (February 5, 2013, 1:20 GMT)

Wasn't it Giffen who the following was said of? After he had bowled for some hours, one of his fellow players suggested there should be a change of bowling. 'That's a good idea', said Giffen, 'i'll try the other end'.

Posted by GrindAR on (February 4, 2013, 16:21 GMT)

Probably Giffen started the politics in Cricket. How a crocked brain it was to deny a talent to benefit the country for his selfish desires. For his statement "a difficult man… when a man is too conceited and plays for himself instead of his side he does a lot of harm", expressing the dissatisfaction, showed his passion for playing for the country. A medium pacer making such an impact to team results is phenomenal. He truly deserves this tribute/homage from ICC.

Posted by   on (February 4, 2013, 12:30 GMT)

"Also, on highest number of wickets per Test - 5.94 - his nearest rival is O'Reilly with 5.33."

O'Reilly had 144 in 27 tests, but Grimmett had 216 in 37---an average of almost 6 per test

Posted by MrKricket on (February 4, 2013, 11:38 GMT)

Wasn't he the fastest ever to 100 wickets? I thought he still held the record although something tells me another player did it in 16 Tests.

Posted by maf17 on (February 4, 2013, 6:51 GMT)

How did they measure a bowler's speed before the invention of radar? Would be fascinated to know.

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