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'Walk into a dressing room today and you'd have trouble finding a place to sit'

Former Australia batsman Alan Turner talks about the 1975 Ashes, his only World Cup, and rejecting World Series Cricket

Interview by Crispin Andrews |

"I'm a New South Welshman and would never play for anyone else" © PA Photos

I made my Test debut in the same match as Graham Gooch. He got a pair.

I was at midwicket when Jeff Thomson bounced Zaheer Abbas once. Zaheer spooned it up into the leg side and both myself and Thommo went for the catch. We got there at the same time and somehow our arms got locked together as we fell. He got a popped shoulder; I got knocked out.

Sam Trimble was Queensland's leading run scorer before Stuart Law. And he was born in New South Wales. That still sends shivers down my spine. I'm a New South Welshman and would never play for anyone else.

I rejected the WSC offer after I found that these matches would be played in direct opposition to the Australian Cricket Board matches that were being sponsored by British American Tobacco, the company that had employed me since 1969. I felt I couldn't turn my back on a company that had supported me in cricket for nearly ten years, and by then I wasn't really enjoying playing cricket for a living.

Some joker calling himself Michael Angelow ran naked across the Oval pitch, jumped the stumps at both ends and when two police officers escorted him off, one put his helmet over his backside the other over the bloke's nether regions.

In 1975, the NSW players were being paid A$8 per day. The guy at the SCG gate got $30 per day.

"After one over, Boycott said, 'I'm not going to face any more of that.' I asked him whether he was scared of my bowling"

Before the 1975 World Cup, apart from England and a lot of the West Indies players, who had been playing county cricket in England, there wasn't much one-day experience. Australia had only played a handful of one-day internationals.

Rod Marsh once said, I bet that I'm the tallest in the team sitting down. He threw down ten bucks on the table and ran a book on it. Rod must've got his information from somewhere, because it turned out he was right. Short legs but a long upper body.

In my first Test England captain Mike Denness won the toss at Edgbaston, put Australia in, we scored 359, and then it rained. Wickets were left uncovered back then, only the bowlers' run-ups were covered. Australia won by an innings. Denness never played another Test for England.

Geoff Boycott, England's best batsman, made himself unavailable in 1975. No matter what the excuse, it was clear that he did not want to engage with Lillee and Thomson.

Tony Greig brought an intensity to the England team which made them more competitive.

Our first World Cup match, at Leeds against Pakistan, was my first appearance for Australia. I helped get us off to a fast start with 46.

"Viv Richards ran me out in the World Cup final, but I thought I had made my ground. Ian Chappell agreed with me" © PA Photos

Against Kent in the 1975 tour game, Ian Chappell declared at lunch on the last day with Australia 354-odd ahead. I sat near Ian and Colin Cowdrey at lunch. Colin told Ian that he believed himself to be a little beyond first-class cricket and that he was contemplating retirement. After lunch Kent lost an early wicket. Enter one MC Cowdrey, to face Dennis Lillee, Alan Hurst, Gary Gilmour and the rest. Fifteen minutes before the end, Cowdrey walked off with 151 runs and a four-wicket win for Kent. He played another year after that. I scored 156 in the first innings.

During the 1980s and early '90s, I managed Benson and Hedges' sponsorships, including cricket.

I was not selected for the 1977 England tour. McCosker was still not fit for the Jubilee Test at Lord's, and second wicketkeeper Richie Robinson opened the batting with Ian Davis.

Greg Chappell took over the captaincy from Ia, in 1976, and while he wasn't quite the leader that his brother was, he led mostly with his bat. To say that Greg was a great player at that point in time was an understatement.

I underestimated the toughness of an Ashes battle. It was a lot more intense than I imagined, and I failed to distinguish myself with the bat.

The Australian cricket administration failed to acknowledge the growing unsettledness of the players and ignored their approaches for greater remuneration. Cricket was becoming a business, and historically, businesses that subjugate their workers more often than not end up with industrial action.

I only ever had two overs in first-class cricket, both at John Edrich and Geoff Boycott, when NSW played the MCC in 1970-71. After one over, Boycott said, "I'm not going to face any more of that." I asked him whether he was scared of my bowling.

"I felt I couldn't turn my back on a company that had supported me in cricket for nearly ten years"

The World Cup final was an epic event at Lord's. Clive Lloyd played a masterful innings.

It was my first tour, 1975 to England, so I thought I'd see if I could room with my friend Gary Gilmour, who was on his first tour too. Ian Chappell said, "No way, he's rooming with Max Walker and you're rooming with Ross Edwards, so you can both learn something."

I played my last Test in Auckland in February 1977 and was dropped for the Centenary Test. We had three openers: myself, Rick McCosker and Ian Davis, and the selectors wanted to find room for David Hookes in the middle order. While we were in New Zealand, Hookes had scored five consecutive Sheffield Shield centuries. That demanded his selection for the Centenary Test.

My career with British American Tobacco Australia lasted 43 years, during which I had management roles in finance and accounting, sales, marketing, and supply chain.

By 1973, Australian cricket was sponsored and television money had started to flow into the game. Players received little more than what they had received since the '60s. The cricket administration was naïve and shortsighted not to recognise the players' right to share in this situation. The administrators created a situation whereby a breakaway tournament like World Series Cricket was possible.

On day one [of the Centenary Test], McCosker's jaw was broken by a bouncer from Bob Willis and I was asked to get my gear flown to Melbourne. The Queen was to attend again on day five, and if the match finished early, there would have been a one-day game, in which I was to play.

"Ian Chappell was a tremendous captain. He put his heart and soul into every match, he backed his players to the hilt © PA Photos

At one point I was Ranwick Cricket Club's first grade captain and president. So I ran the team and the board.

As a senior player you have an obligation to young players to make sure they have fulfilled their potential.

During the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan in Melbourne in 1976, a number of personal, one-on-one discussions took place between the players and an anonymous representative of an Australian businessman, which later, of course, turned out to be Kerry Packer.

I saw Tom Graveney play for Queensland. He was in his forties by then, but still made batting look easy, just nudged it around, no fanfare. He had 50 on the board almost before you realised he was out there.

I played junior cricket with Jeff Thomson in NSW. He played a couple of games for us before he went up to Queensland and then I had to play against him for the rest of my life.

"Today you'd be rooming with your wife. When my wife came to see me on that [1975] England tour, I had to move out of the team hotel"

We were told that WSC would cover three years. Money was discussed and agreed on the condition that no one said anything. Secrecy was imperative.

Before the 1975 Ashes, we went on a ten-day development tour of Canada. Ian Chappell had some connections out there. Matches were played on coir matting stretched over rolled mud. We'd never played on this surface and struggled with the pace, spin and bounce. We won most of our games but lost one to a Toronto team, containing a lot of former West Indian first-class players.

No one said much to me before my first Test. You were an Australian, you'd got there because you could play, and you were expected to man up.

I scored a hundred before lunch against Sri Lanka at The Oval in 1975. This was the first one-day international century scored by an Australian.

If I walked into a Test match dressing room today, you'd have trouble finding a place to put your backside down to sit, because they've got so many hangers-on, coaches for that, mentors for this. We had a manager who managed all the off-field stuff and a captain who managed the on-field stuff. The senior players were your mentors.

Today you'd be rooming with your wife. When my wife came to see me on that [1975] England tour, I had to move out of the team hotel. Doug Walters' wife was the only one who travelled around with us, but even she wasn't allowed on the bus. She had to travel on the baggage cart.

By the end of the 1975-76 season, Australia were the best side in the world, but on their day West Indies could beat anyone. We beat them 5-1, but the one Test they won, in Perth, in four days, was the most convincing victory in the series.

That Australian team was very committed to each other and to the cause. There were no divisions.

"I scored a hundred before lunch against Sri Lanka at The Oval in 1975, the first one-day international century scored by an Australian" © Getty Images

Viv Richards ran me out in the World Cup final, but I thought I had made my ground. After looking at the replays, Ian Chappell agreed with me. If it weren't for Viv's three run-outs, we'd have won that game.

I walked into the NSW dressing room for the first time aged 18 and someone asked me my name. I said "Alan Turner". And someone replied: "We'll call you Fitteran [A fitter and turner manufactures mechanical parts and assembles those parts together to manufacture a mechanical device.] The nickname stuck.

It was so windy during the 1977 tour match in Wellington that we had to play without bails and trust the batsman's honour that they'd walk off if the ball hit the stumps.

We were having breakfast in our hotel just north of Leeds before the start of the last day of the 1975 Ashes Test, when someone from Headingley arrived and asked Ian Chappell and our manager, Fred Bennett, to go down to the ground for a meeting. When the rest of us arrived an hour later, we found that vandals, supporters of convicted murderer George Davis, had dug holes in the wicket and also poured oil on it.

During the 1975 World Cup, 60 overs per team made for a long day and a three-day turnaround between matches meant players had to focus on recovery, particularly the bowlers.

John Snow was every bit the excellent bowler and fierce competitor that I imagined he was after seeing him in Australia in 1970-71, when he'd bowled England to victory.

Ian Chappell was a tremendous captain. He put his heart and soul into every match, he backed his players to the hilt. His leadership was exemplary and his strategy spot on. He was probably the best captain that I ever played under.

I was chairman of the Benson and Hedges Company between 1991 and 1994. When Mike Whitney got 11 wickets against India in Perth in 1992, I gave him the Man-of-the-Match award. That was nice for both of us, as I'd been Mike's captain when he started playing first-grade cricket at Randwick Cricket Club. I got to the WACA just after lunchtime, went up to have lunch, and then Michael cleaned up the tail, so I had to rush down to the presentation. He still owes me lunch.

 

LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Richard on | October 19, 2016, 0:41 GMT

    @PM_NSW - Batting seemed far more difficult in those days than it is today. You batted as if your life depended on it. The irony is that today it does and in those days it didn't.

  • POSTED BY parvez on | October 14, 2016, 7:34 GMT

    @downtheorder, your comments extremely uncharitable..

  • POSTED BY Brian on | October 13, 2016, 21:24 GMT

    @CricketChat - I reckon I'm a tad older than you, and was as a boy, remember Turner's career quite well. He was a very average Test opener...very inconsistent, and a flawed technique. McCosker was far superior. Turner got more games than he deserved, and was fortunate to play when Australia lacked quality openers after the Stackpole, Redpath, Lawry era.

  • POSTED BY Aubline on | October 13, 2016, 14:02 GMT

    The Boycott myth is no more accurate however many times it is repeated. Neither Lillee nor Thomson were expected to feature in the Australian team at the time Boycott withdrew from the tour. All things being equal, I imagine Boycott would have been delighted to 'engage with' an Australian attack minus Lillee and Thomson, as evidenced by the final test of the series.

  • POSTED BY DAVID on | October 13, 2016, 11:29 GMT

    The 1975 streaker displayed himself not at The Oval but at Lord's. John Arlott was broadcasting at the time and described him as a "freaker". Good to hear of "Fitter'n" after all these years.

  • POSTED BY Mashuq on | October 13, 2016, 10:01 GMT

    That Turner-Thommo clash ended JT's period as imho the quickest of all time!

  • POSTED BY Jefferson on | October 13, 2016, 5:42 GMT

    @BOYCOTT246 I would differ all knowledge/facts to the guy who played the game, and not a fan - unless you are the real Geoffrey Boycott. Why do you think Thommo and Lillee were out of test cricket in 1974/75? Are you thinking 1984/85? Just wondering...

  • POSTED BY Max on | October 13, 2016, 5:27 GMT

    He's right about bowling only two overs in first-class cricket. But only one of them was in that MCC match. The other was against Western Australia, and he took a wicket. You'd think he'd remember a first-class wicket - perhaps he was being modest. I can remember seeing him bowl left-arm orthodox in the nets, and they weren't all that bad.

  • POSTED BY parvez on | October 13, 2016, 0:17 GMT

    AT is a legend in many many way! Having worked with him many years after he retired from cricket, he still demonstrated his fearce loyalty, fantastic personality, great sense of humor and his ability to not walk away from a scrap.. he is a true blue aussie! Wish him the very best.

  • POSTED BY PETER on | October 12, 2016, 21:35 GMT

    Lillee and Thomson had been out of test cricket for almost 2 yrs apiece by 1974/5, Lillee with a stress fracture of the back, Thomson following a debut vs Pakistan where he took 0-110. They were not a consideration in Boycott's self-imposed test match exile, was more concerned with Dennis's, Greig and the selecting hierarchy. One can only assume that Mr. Turner, with his single test century and whom Peter Hanlon of The Age described as "An ordinary man amongst gods" is attempting to be controversial as nobody remembers who he was. The only time Thomson bowled to Boycott in tests, Boycott scored 191.

  • POSTED BY Paul on | October 12, 2016, 21:28 GMT

    SPONGEBAT_SQUARESTUMPS More likely she would have used a stick of Yorkshire roooobarb.

  • POSTED BY John on | October 12, 2016, 20:58 GMT

    Enjoyable interview but from memory, George Davis was an armed robber rather than a murderer.

  • POSTED BY Alex on | October 12, 2016, 19:58 GMT

    @PWCRICKET - Boycs will tell you that his nan could have played that 80-81 WI pace attack with a stick of celery...

  • POSTED BY Steve on | October 12, 2016, 19:49 GMT

    Barely started following cricket about the time Alan Turner was playing and felt he was discarded way too soon. He would have provided solid opening opening over many come-and -go type players between 1977-80, especially after his stance against WSC.

  • POSTED BY Kenneth Lloyd on | October 12, 2016, 19:26 GMT

    It does annoy me when the old story of Boycott going missing because of his fear of facing Lillee and Thomson. The opposite was probably true in that if he'd known how formidable they would be he would have been there to pick up the captaincy once everyone could see how out of his depth Denness was. Boycott was unofficially promised the captaincy with England 0-1 down in the West Indies. He then scored a century and a 99 and won the final test. On the back of that victory Denness kept the job and Boycott described his own batting as the worst possible outcome for English cricket. That was when he decided not to play for England, no fear of facing fast bowlers but totally fed up with people in charge of not only England but of Yorkshire too.

  • POSTED BY Graham on | October 12, 2016, 12:37 GMT

    The comments about bowling to Edrich and Boycott can be reversed: when Greig was captaining Engalnd in the WI he brought Boycott on to bowl. At the end of the over Viv Richards rushed up to Greig and demanded he remove Boycott from the attack immediately. 'Why ?' 'Because if he gets us out we'll never hear the end of it' !

  • POSTED BY jaswant on | October 12, 2016, 11:59 GMT

    It was a long time ago, from the archive of my memory I remember bits and pieces.The Australian team for the most part has been a dynamic force. In 1975 Ian Chappell and his men whipped the WI.I think it was a 6 test series with WI winning one test.In that test Roy Fredericks made a remarkable 169, flaying Lillee and Thompson to every part of the ground.He was one of cricket's most magnificent opener,may be the most aggressive at the time.The Chappell brothers Ian and Greg were like invincible,today it's difficult to find players with their skills.Rod Marsh,Max Walker,Ian Redpath,Keith Stackpole were some Australians who played in that time.

  • POSTED BY Sanjay on | October 12, 2016, 10:55 GMT

    Terrific interview, I started watching cricket on TV in 1975 itself, I knew the names of all the Aussie players; never saw a game which featured Turner but was always aware of that mid pitch collision, the Gray Nicolls bat, his being left handed. There were so few opportunities to see players in those days that as a child you picked up on every little detail. Most of it game from magazines, pen pics etc. I wondered about players from afar, loved those days and I still have all that memorabilia.

    These interviews are great, I like the random, non-sequential style. Didn't know that AT turned WSC because of the employer connection. 43 years tells you his loyalty wasn't misplaced. Well Done!

  • POSTED BY Stephen on | October 12, 2016, 10:19 GMT

    Great interview - I think McCosker played all five tests in 77 and Richie Robinson replaced Ian Davis. Turner's form dropped away sharp in 77 - he didn't make the 77-78 side. Australia could've used his experience then. Wonder what happened.

  • POSTED BY Partab on | October 12, 2016, 10:12 GMT

    Very uncharitable, unfair and unwarranted comments about Geoff Boycott. A batsman with his proven record and skill at playing pace bowling not wanting to ``engage with Lillee and Thomson'' is absolutely uncalled for. Boycott did have an excellent record against both bowlers even late in his career and tackled the West Indian pace quartet admirably even at the age of 40. The reasons for Boycott's self exile for three years has been well documented and it is better Alan Turner gets his history right.

  • POSTED BY frank on | October 12, 2016, 10:05 GMT

    Well said PWCRICKET.Before the 74-5 tour,Thomson had played 1 Test (0-110 were his figures) so Boycott wouldn't even have heard of him,and Lillee had only plated 1 Test in almost a year (0-132) - hardly reasons for Boycott to make himself unavailable. Some other factual inaccuracies from AT in the interview as well.Boycott averaged over 42 in the 80-81 series v WI and made an unbeaten century.

  • POSTED BY Paul on | October 12, 2016, 9:39 GMT

    Yet another Aussie banging the "Boycott was scared of Lillee and Thomson" drum. Whatever his reasons for missing those years, fear was not part of it. Six years later, aged 40, he was standing up to the West Indian pace quartet in the Caribbean.

  • POSTED BY Edwin on | October 12, 2016, 9:25 GMT

    Great story - always wonder what happens to these players who played at the highest level.......

  • POSTED BY Bastian Sdander on | October 12, 2016, 7:56 GMT

    Priceless gems. These stories are is why I love cricket.