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
Charlier Turner: possibly even better than Spofforth  •  Getty Images

Charlier Turner: possibly even better than Spofforth  •  Getty Images

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.
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