A stickler for discipline and a fierce promoter of the traditions of the game, Glenn Turner, the former New Zealand opener who began playing first-class cricket in 1964, has penned his thoughts on the state of international cricket with veteran journalist Lynn McConnell in a book titled Cricket’s Global Warming.
There are sections in the book that are bound to trigger a debate among the players and fans as Turner wades into some absurdities that have come to play havoc with the reputation of the game. Cricket has undergone many changes, not all for the good of the game, and Turner does not mince words as he discusses them with the same vision that marked his career. In this interview, Turner shares his thoughts on cricket and the book.
Glenn Turner in 1972
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You have discussed the 2019 World Cup final in detail. How differently would you have tackled the over-throw incident?
I hope I would have tackled the over-throw incident very differently. At the time, although there will have been some distractions in play, my attention wouldn’t have been totally diverted away from (Ben) Stokes’ actions. In particular his dive and where he ended up was especially telling. My background knowledge of how experienced batsmen react automatically by deliberately blocking throws when a run-out is threatened, would have inevitably led me to expressing my thoughts to the umpire/umpires. Hopefully, this would have prompted them to refer to the third umpire for a ruling. Frankly, I wouldn’t have expected the decision to have gone New Zealand’s way because of the history of these rulings. Examples of obstructing the field in these circumstances had largely been ignored, unless transparently obvious.
Deliberate obstruction has crept under the radar, probably because of the absence for so long of third umpires, TV replays and batsmen rarely taking advantage of any overthrows deflected from their person.
Giving batsmen out in these circumstances appeared to be in the too hard basket. Inaction by umpires and most people, had become normalised, but on the occasion in question the stakes of a World Cup were too high to ignore. I wonder if this event will future-proof what happens in the future.
Glenn Turner is his present avatar Special Arrangement
NZ cricketers have the best image in today’s cricket world. How did they develop this kind of sportsmanship?
This should not been seen as a given, because as with most things, it is not fixed. It only takes a couple of players in a team to undermine the reputation of the group. It is generally accepted that power corrupts. Access to power in the cricketing environment has significantly increased over time due largely to the expansion of the electronic media coverage of international games and excessive amounts of money. Current societal mores are also showing up in cricket whereby people/players are very conscious of presumed rights but less mindful of their responsibilities. What tends to follow is a strong sense of entitlement.
The book jacket
Do you believe cricket has become too commercial thanks to the CEOs who now run the game?
Yes, I think it has become too commercial to the point of becoming more of a product than a game. I’m not privy to what happens in other countries, although I suspect there are similarities between New Zealand and others. In NZ senior players and the Players’ Association predominantly run the game. The presence of players’ agents has also provoked cricket boards into abrogating some of their governance responsibilities, including appeasement to agents.
Do you think the international bowling standards have declined over the years?
The approach to bowling has to some extent changed along with trends in society, which unsurprisingly affects some players more than others. The biggest trend influencing bowling today, is likely to be seeking instant gratification, which leads to impatience and a lack of perseverance. I believe successful bowling is more about persisting with the percentages that give you the best chance of realising success. This approach is less prevalent today than in the past.
Why is cricket marked by so much on-field acrimony, though not when New Zealand is playing?
There are numerous examples of umpires receiving unwarranted repercussions from enforcing some of the laws of the game associated with the spirit of the cricket. Presumably this has led to their lack of trust in the authorities to back them up and therefore umpires’ reluctance to apply these laws when required. Furthermore, the conflicts of interest allowing player power to gain too much control has also compounded the problem. The question of entitlement, rights and responsibilities once again comes into focus.
Why is cricket, and no other sport, a reflection of society?
It’s not a question of no other sport being a reflection of society. The fact that cricket is played over such a long period of time (I’m not including T20 as Cricket) automatically exposes itself to more of the influences of what is happening in society.
Are we not watching lot of mediocre international cricket?
Greed has created the need to play as much unsustainable cricket as possible because of the perceived need to feed a few insatiable appetites. Cricket has followed an abusive form of capitalism where the gap between the first team players and the next group is unacceptably high, let alone the gap for those at the provincial level. The dominance of T20 cricket is and will continue to reduce the ability of players to play longer forms of the game and therefore create what you refer to as mediocre international cricket. Some will say who cares about longer forms of cricket? I do!
How do you view Indian cricket?
It’s been interesting to follow the change that’s taken place in Indian cricket over the decades. In particular, the emergence of strength in the seam/swing/fast bowling department. A marked contrast from the 1970s when spin prevailed. I first toured India in 1969, at a time when Indian cricket and New Zealand cricket were not seen as fitting into the top echelon of teams compared to England, Australia and the West Indies. How times have changed!
I don’t like to start comparing the ability of teams and players from different eras because there are too many different factors that come into play.
The on-field demeanour between our two teams at that time was one of respect for your opponent. This was probably made easier by the fact that neither of us had the possible complications of dealing with power, and entitlement was not an issue because there wasn’t much for us to be entitled to. Incidentally, I have probably been back to India about 35 times since 1969 and been privileged to observe some of the significant changes generally over that period.
Journalist and co-author Lynn McConnell’s take on…
“The appeal of Glenn Turner’s cricket and his achievements rests on him maximising his abilities to the fullest in one of the toughest areas of the game — Lynn McConnell as an opening batsman. What made his success more impressive, and support his claims to be regarded among the greats, was doing it during an era of outstanding quality among opening bowlers both on the English county scene and in Test match play initially, and then in the burgeoning one-day game. He had more to contend with than others as well because he was a trailblazer in the New Zealand game. Certainly there had been NZ players in county cricket before, but with improved air travel he was able to commute between England and New Zealand’s seasons.
That brought issues with New Zealand’s amateur administrators and there were clashes that, with a less determined player than Glenn might well have seen them give up. The players of today will forever be indebted to Glenn for the path he walked, although I suspect many of them don’t appreciate that. Throughout it all he continued to score runs and in retirement he has continued to serve a game in a way that few other former players have managed. The game remains the thing.”
“In discussion with Glenn we realised that we had similar concerns with where cricket was headed, initially in the New Zealand situation, but the more we talked the more we realised issues here were similar to what was happening elsewhere. I had a long association with Glenn from my days as a provincial sports editor when he was the chief executive of the Otago Sports Trust which worked in the catchment area for students at the University of Otago. Latterly, during his time as NZ coach and my work in other centres we crossed paths again and had a level of contact which served us well in preparing this book.” — Lynn McConnell
Cricket in post COVID-19
“Cricket is luckier than many sports in allowing social distancing to occur on the field. But the tricky area is in off-field arrangements, travelling, accommodation, coping with crowds and the like. Adaptation will be crucial to the return of play but it shouldn’t happen without proper safeguards being put in place.” — Lynn McConnell