Peter Williams: Turner still on the team 40 years later

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It's a measure of Glenn Turner's love for the game of cricket that, 40 years after his first association with the New Zealand team, he's still intimately involved as, effectively, the convener of selectors.

If anybody ever had a reason to thumb his nose at the game in this country, it's Turner. But, despite the insults and injustices he's been dealt, he's still there, offering wisdom from one of the best cricketing brains New Zealand has produced.

February 27 is actually his 40th anniversary with the New Zealand team. That day in 1969, Turner made his test debut as an opening batsman against the West Indies. It was the only time in his 73 test innings that he failed to score.

He went on to compile one of the best New Zealand records of all time. He played 41 tests, scored seven centuries (two of them were double hundreds) and averaged a tick under 45 runs per innings. He was also New Zealand's first truly innovative limited overs batsman. Especially towards the end of his career, in 1983 in Australia, he was quite brilliant chipping over the ring of fieldsmen inside the circle and running twos and threes. His average of 47 in ODIs is still the best by any New Zealander who's played more than 10 matches.

The tragedy is that he didn't appear more for his country. Apart from the 1979 World Cup in England, he didn't play international cricket for nearly six years from 1977 to 1983. New Zealand cricket administrators of that amateur era couldn't understand that as a professional player, the first to play English county cricket as well as in, and for, New Zealand in the English off-season, he needed to be treated as a professional.

His frustrations reached boiling point early in 1978 and he withdrew from New Zealand cricket.

But the national team's loss was the TV audience's gain. He was one of this country's best cricket broadcasters for nearly 20 years, although there were a few seasons he was off-air in another trailblazing role - as the national team's first full time coach.

Turner first took the job in 1985. In conjunction with Jeremy Coney as his captain, and with Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe in their prime, the results were outstanding. Series wins over Australia in Australia and New Zealand, England in England and a drawn series against the then mighty West Indies at home represents the greatest 18 months in NZ test history.

But he'd never intended it to be a long term role. In 1987 Turner stepped down and returned to the commentary box, only to answer an SOS in 1995 when the national team and the game's administration was in disarray following the disastrous South African tour and centenary season of 1994-95.

But the team he had charge of this time had neither the cricketing ability nor the mature individuals of 10 years before.

There were well-publicised public disagreements with Chris Cairns and Adam Parore, while his new captain Lee Germon was widely seen as Turner's puppet. The new CEO, Chris Doig, and the NZC board backed Cairns and Parore and fired Turner. Who'd bother going back to the game after such a public rejection and humiliation?

But it didn't take long for his old Otago association to come calling, and from there it was back to the national team yet again.

Glenn Turner's greatest gifts are his honesty, his pragmatism and an inability to hold a grudge for too long. After what he's achieved, he has nothing left to prove. Forty years on, New Zealand Cricket should be delighted, and thankful, he's still part of their team.

- Herald on Sunday

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