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Ashes Heroes Part 4 Charlie Turner & JJ Ferris

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JJ Ferris has the second-best bowling average in history, taking 61 Test wickets at 12.70. Charlie ‘Terror’ Turner is sixth in that list, all 101 of his wickets coming in 17 Tests for Australia against England, at a cost of 16.53. Ferris has the second-best strike rate as well. The Terror is further down that list, but 41st over the entire span of Test cricket is still impressive. In all of Ferris’ Tests for Australia he partnered Turner, so a successful pairing to say the least. It seems remarkable that of those eight matches Australia won just one and lost all of the other seven. In Turner’s nine Tests without Ferris Australia did better, winning three, but they still lost four.

Ashes Heroes-Charlie Turner & JJ Ferris
Ashes Heroes-Charlie Turner & JJ Ferris
.Another curious feature of the pair is their lack of longevity. In an era when cricket careers were generally much longer than they are today Turner played his last Test at 32. As for Ferris he was only 23 when he played his last Test for Australia, and still not 25 when he made that sole appearance for England against South Africa.Both men were New South Welshmen and worked as bank clerks.

Turner was 24 at the beginning of the 1886/87 summer and had made his First Class bow four years before that, for New South Wales against Ivo Bligh’s England. Bligh’s side defeated New South Wales by an innings and 144. The debutante took a solitary wicket at a cost of 76 runs. His victim was George Vernon, the Englishmen’s number ten and the last man dismissed. In the next three years he had appeared in three more First Class fixtures. He went wicket less.In that season, somehow both got into the NSW team, and did a lot of bowling.

Even with the substandard wicket at the SCG (then known as the Association Ground) notwithstanding Shaw’s men would not have been expecting, on winning the toss and choosing to bat, to be dismissed for 74 in little more than a couple of hours by a pair of unknown bowlers. That is exactly what happened, however. Ferris took 4-50 and Turner 6-20. Between them they bowled all but two of the overs.In their second innings, the Englishmen were bowled out for 98. This time Turner and Ferris got a total of six overs rest. Turner took 7-34 and Ferris 3-49. New South Wales won by 6 wickets. In a rematch three weeks later Shaw’s side triumphed by nine wickets, but all eleven English wickets that fell belonged to Turner (8-80) and Ferris (3-81).

Two English sides toured Australia in 1887/88, one led by Arthur Shrewsbury and the other by George Vernon. In early February, the two sides combined and what has become classified as a Test match played. The pattern was the same as the previous year, the home side’s batsmen not scoring enough runs to complement the efforts of Turner (12-85) and Ferris (6-103).

In 1888 Turner and Ferris came to England with the side led by Percy McDonnell. There were three Tests scheduled, all of three days’ duration. In the event, none of the matches went to a third day. Australia won the first and England the second and third to take the series. The wickets were poor, as a quick look at the scoring amply demonstrates. Of the ten-completed innings in the series (both of England’s successes were by an innings) as many as seven resulted in all out totals of 100 or less.

There was a great deal of work for Turner and Ferris on the tour as a whole. Of the 40 matches Ferris played in them all, and Turner missed only one. For Turner there were 314 wickets at 11.38, and for Ferris 220 at 14.23. The next highest wicket taker was Harry Trott with 48. The 1889 Wisden was the first to carry a photographic plate. The feature Six Great Bowlers was the reason. There were five separate images, the central one being of Turner and Ferris, the only time one of the many great pairings in the game have been treated in that way by the Almanack.

Australia, with their two spearheads, were back in England two years later. The third of the three Tests, at Old Trafford, does not appear in the record books because it was washed out without a ball being bowled. The two Tests that did start were both won by England. This time there were 37 matches, and Ferris and Turner were each allowed to miss two. Their dominance was not much diminished, both managing 215 wickets. Turner paid marginally less for his, 12.15 as opposed to 13.43 by Ferris. This time the next highest wicket taker was the 23-year-old prodigy, Hugh Trumble, who took 53 wickets in 25 matches. In the two Tests Ferris was as impressive as ever, with 13 wickets at 13.15. Turner was rather subdued in comparison, his six wickets costing 26.50 runs apiece.

The 1890 tour was the last visit by an Australian team to England for three years and by the time Jack Blackham’s 1893 side arrived Ferris was no longer available. On his first trip to England in 1888 Gloucestershire had shown an interest in recruiting Ferris as a professional. It seems they finally managed to persuade him to join them during the 1890 tour. In those days in order to be eligible to play in the County Championship a player had to have lived in a county for at least two years, although it seems the requirement was not always rigorously enforced.
Ferris did return to Australia after the 1890 visit and played against South Australia and Victoria in December, taking 20 wickets, before setting off for England in January 1891. After a seven-week sea voyage he arrived, and it seems no one objected to his being treated as having been resident in his adopted county since June 1890. In any event his Championship debut came in June 1892.

In the meantime, there was the summer of 1891 during which Ferris had to occupy himself. He took a job with a firm of Bristol stockbrokers, although he still managed to play 25 cricket matches for ten different teams and, in fact, had the most successful of his five summers in England with the ball. He took 70 wickets at 15.57. That does not however alter the fact that the penultimate match of the tour, eleven a side and scheduled for three days, now has Test status. Ferris took 13/91 as the Englishmen overwhelmed their hosts by an innings and 189 runs.
In July 1899 Ferris set sail for South Africa, looking for a new start and new opportunities. In the end, he signed up for the South African Light Horse, a volunteer corps, in February 1900. In October, he left his military service and went back to civilian life in Durban.
A few short weeks later JJ Ferris died of typhoid.

The 1891/92 tour has an interesting background. Australia was in the grip of a recession and interest in cricket, following the defeats in 1888 and 1890, was not high. A benefactor, Lord Sheffield, stepped in at huge personal cost. He paid Grace an eye watering £3,000, as well as making generous provision for the expenses of himself and his family. Grace’s was a strong side and won the third Test by the massive margin of an innings and 230 runs. Australia had however won the first two Tests and therefore took the series. Turner took 16 wickets at 21.12 and was Australia’s leading bowler.

The 1893 tour was not a happy one. Performances on the field were poor and the one decided Test of the three-match series was won by England. That it wasn’t 2-0 to England was, unusually, largely down to Turner the batsman. Had he not, despite dislocated finger that WG had had to treat for him, hung around for 27 runs in a last wicket partnership of 36 in his side’s second innings England would have had the time they needed to force a win. With the ball, no longer was Turner his side’s best bowler in the Tests, and he had a relatively modest haul of 11 wickets at 28.63. His figures on the tour as a whole were still impressive enough, but in the Tests, he was sacked by George Giffen, with whom he didn’t eye to eye.

Turner took his place in the Australian team for the first Test against Drewy Stoddart’s England side of 1894/95. This was the first and, until an Ian Botham inspired England at Headingley in 1981 repeated the feat, only Test in which a side following on has come-back to win. Turner took only three wickets, so could certainly have done better. England went 2-0 up in the second Test. It was almost like the old days as Turner took 5-32 in an England first innings total of just 75, but the visitors came back strongly and won again. Injury kept Turner out of the third Test, won by Australia, but was back for their handsome innings victory in the fourth. England were shot out for 65 and 72. Turner took 3-18 and 4-33.

Remarkably Turner was left out of the side for the final Test, one of the great selectorial blunders as Australia’s bowlers allowed England to chase down a fourth innings target of 298, at that time the largest ever achieved by a distance, for the loss of just four wickets. The decision to leave Turner out was ultimately down to skipper Giffen who clearly let personal antipathy get in the way of what was best for the side. Turner was furious and immediately announced his retirement from Test cricket.
As with many such situations the passage of time soothed injured feelings and Turner might well have continued his Test career with a final trip to England in 1896. He was called up at the last minute and accepted the offer but in the end, he didn’t go, citing an inability to cover his business commitments at such short notice.
On the New Year’s Day 1944 Turner died in Manly Hospital of what was quaintly and unattractively described as senile decay at 82.

Stay tuned for more on the series-Ashes Heroes.

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