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In Safe Hands: Rob Turner

Over the course of the next few months, we will be speaking to some of the players who have kept wicket for the Club.

The series is entitled “In Safe Hands” and during the interviews we will be looking at what unique qualities you require to be a wicketkeeper and discussing the pressures that go with this vital position.

To begin the series, we spoke with Rob Turner, who joined Somerset in 1991 and went on to make nearly 450 appearances for the County. Rob was also part of the squad that lifted the 2001 C&G Trophy.

How and why did you end up behind the stumps?

“When I was young, I basically copied my brother in anything that he did. He supported Aston Villa so I supported Aston Villa. He kept wicket and I liked the look of that, so I followed in his footsteps. He was a wicketkeeper for Weston-super-Mare Cricket Club.”

Was it always the dream to be a keeper?

“It was always the dream to play cricket and to play cricket for Somerset. The fact that eventually happened really is a dream come true situation. I just always fancied keeping after watching my brother play. He also went on to play First Class cricket for Somerset in the days of Botham, Richards and Garner. As a young kid of about eight I wanted to do it every time I went training at my club in Weston because it meant that you were always involved in the game. I used to find standing around in the field a bit boring, so if I was keeping wicket I was always in the game and doing something.”

Which keepers do you most admire and why?

“I always go back to Jack Russell when I’m asked that question. He was in a different class. He just made it look so easy and effortless. He had amazing hands and could do things that other keepers just couldn’t do. He was so gifted that he could do what he wanted with his hands. He’s a lovely guy but he enjoyed a bit of confrontation on the field. He had his little tricks and mind games that he would play when you were batting in front of him. He certainly let you know that he was around. There was never anything nasty, but he was always clever about it. He was brilliant in that final we played against Gloucestershire at Lord’s in 1999.”

The old quote says that you don’t have to be mad to be a keeper, but it helps. Is that true?

“You get some pretty quirky guys keeping wicket with some pretty interesting routines, but you’re probably better off asking other people about me in that respect. I don’t think that I was particularly mad as a keeper, so I don’t really think that I necessarily fit that mould. My teammates may have a different opinion though! You do get to hear some stories and Jack was a prime example of that. I suppose you do have to have something different about you. It’s a bit like being a goalkeeper in football or ice hockey I suppose.

“I once got hit in the eye when I was standing up without a helmet. The ball flicked off the batsman’s pad and actually shattered my hard contact lens. I spent the rest of the day in hospital having fragments of contact lens removed from my eye with tweezers. My eye closed over, and we weren’t 100% certain that I would be able to see out of that eye again. A few days later I was able to open the eye and thankfully I could still see. Five days later I was playing in the next match, so I guess you could call that slightly mad.”

What traits make a quality keeper?

“Firstly, you have to be able to catch the ball! That’s a pretty simple answer, but as a keeper you have to be able to catch it. 999 times out of 1000 you have to be able to catch that ball. When I used to come off the field having dropped the ball I would be extremely disappointed in my performance. You also have to have excellent concentration. You have to be extremely focused for every single ball of the game. That in itself can be extremely exhausting. You also have to have pride in what you do. You have to be able to do your job as well on ball 700 as you did on ball one.”

Is it enough to just be an exceptional keeper or is there the pressure to be a quality batter too?

“During the first part of my career, you had a quality keeper in the side who batted at around number eight and it was crucial that the keeper fulfilled his role behind the stumps. That all changed when people like Adam Gilchrist came along. Although he was a brilliant keeper, he could also open the batting and cause utter devastation. It saw the whole format of teams change because instead of having a keeper coming in at eight, you had keepers opening the batting which meant that you could have an extra bowler or batter. That completely changed the balance of teams. That maybe did result in a bit of a compromise in the quality of keeping sometimes, but you can understand why that happened. I felt that I was in the team to keep wicket and that batting was an added bonus. I think that the emphasis has moved to this dual player now who is a frontline batter who can keep.

Is there more pressure on a keeper than on any other player?

“Potentially. You are focussing for every second of the game. It’s not like you can wander down to fine leg and relax or have a chat with the crowd. You can’t switch off at any stage. I felt the pressure because I felt that I needed to take very chance that came my way. You can’t have it both ways though. You choose to be a keeper because you love doing it, so you can’t hide behind the fact that there’s pressure there.”

How did you deal with that pressure?

“It helps if all aspects of your game are going well. If you’re feeling good with the bat you can relax a little bit more. You have to also except that the pressure is part of it. You have to develop strategies to help you deal with that. My strategy was to be extremely focused and to take pride in what I did. I also trained extremely hard to help ensure that I didn’t make mistakes.

“Nowadays there is a lot of support when it comes to player’s mental health. There wasn’t that kind of support when I was playing. You spoke to the coach or your friends, and I feel like I was fortunate because I didn’t have any psychological issues that played on my mind. I suppose the fact that it had always been my dream to play for Somerset was the way that I dealt with it.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received when it comes to ‘keeping?

“When I was younger, I used to work in Bristol as an apprentice at Rolls Royce. When I was there I used to nip across to the County Ground where there was a guy called Andy Brassington, who was a keeping coach. He played First XI cricket for Gloucestershire and he was a fabulous coach. He would get me to watch the ball completely into my gloves and to look at the seam. He would also get me to keep low and come up with the ball as it bounces. It’s easy for a keeper to come up too early if one keeps a bit low. They were very simple things, but he helped me to develop a technique.

“Those things certainly helped me when Mushtaq Ahmed turned up at Somerset. What a genius bowler he was. He could turn it both ways at will. Most of the time the batsmen had no idea which way it was going to go because he had so many different actions for the same delivery. It was never obvious if he was going to bowl a flipper or a googly or a leg spinner. He could bowl a leg spinner from what looked like a googly action and vice versa. The things I learned from Andy definitely helped me to be able to keep to Mushy.”

What were your tricks of the trade? Did you have specific tactics for getting an advantage over a particular player?

“I don’t think that I would say I was a sledger. It was more just a bit of chat amongst the guys on the field really. It was just about keeping the boys entertained and keeping the buoyancy up there. You just tried to make it feel like you were on top of the batting team. There was never anything nasty going on. You might hint at the batsman that he didn’t look in very good form or things like that. Dermot Reeve was renowned for his clever chat and for getting under batsmen’s noses and when he took over at Somerset he had a few good techniques and ideas, and I suppose I did get a little bit chirpy at one stage.

“It was Robin Smith who brought that to my attention. What an amazing player Robin was. He didn’t know me. I was just the keeper behind the stumps. He went up to Dermot in the bar after a game and said ‘your keeper’s a bit chirpy, Derm’. Dermot reported that back to me thinking that it was good that I’d got to him. But I thought that if someone like Robin Smith was going to my coach and saying that, it wasn’t the way that I wanted to be portraying myself. I eased back a bit at that stage. I used to have such good fun just having a bit of banter with the guys on the field. I had people like Richard Harden, Peter Bowler and Marcus Trescothick next to me out there and we used to have such great fun just chatting and joking amongst ourselves. You can make a batsman feel uneasy by just having a bit of fun around the bat.

“I remember batting against Glamorgan once and Robert Croft was bowling. There was one point where they had a lot of men around the bat and Crofty had taught them all a load of welsh phrases. Every now and again they would be speaking in welsh, but they’d drop your name in and then they would all start laughing. There was a keeper, a slip, gully, silly point and short square leg and I couldn’t understand what they were saying but they kept mentioning my name. They were having a real giggle and it was in the back of my mind that I didn’t know what was going on. I remember asking Steve James, who was fielding at mid-on and laughing his head off, what was going on. He laughed some more and told me that they didn’t really have a clue what they were saying. They’d just learned some phrases in welsh like ‘hello’, ‘bread and butter’, ‘ice cream’ and that sort of stuff. They were just saying those words and throwing my name in occasionally. Clever stuff like that is what sledging should be all about.”

What is your favourite moment behind the stumps?

“I would have to go back to the C&G final at Lord’s in 2001 and the dismissal of Shahid Afridi. That wasn’t your standard dismissal. That was a top edge that went miles into the sky. I had to backpedal and take it. That was such a big wicket for us because he was one of those players who could literally take the game away from you if he batted for a ten over period. We’d played them recently in two Sunday League games prior to that final and he blazed the ball all around the park in those games.

“In the run up to that final I felt like I was having sleepless nights just imagining him nicking one and me catching it but it slipping out as I landed. Little things like that play out in the back of your mind. A friend of mine was in the crowd at Lord’s that day and he said that the ball was in the air for an eternity and the whole place went silent. That will always be one of my favourite moments and something that I’ll never forget.”

Were there any bowlers that you particularly enjoyed keeping to?

“Andy Caddick was an absolute dream to keep to. The bounce and movement he got away from the right-handed batters was incredible. You felt like the batsman was going to nick every ball. He was high class and a really great bowler to keep to.”

Were there any bowlers that you didn’t enjoy keeping to?

“There wasn’t really anyone I didn’t enjoy keeping to, but left-armers who swung the ball into the right-hander were a bit more difficult to deal with. There were times when it was difficult to keep to Mushy. I used to be able to pick the ball by his hand action. I studied videos for many hours and worked out a way to figure him out.

“I was playing cricket in Perth in the very early days between seasons once and I’d heard that Somerset had just signed him. I wasn’t anywhere near the First Team at that point. Pakistan were playing against Australia down there and I managed to get to see him. I didn’t quite tell him the truth that I was the Second XI keeper, but I told him that I played for Somerset and asked him to come into the nets with me for a while. I borrowed a video recorder off a friend of mine and filmed him and all his different deliveries and actions, and I just studied those for hours on end and learned from that. When I did eventually get to keep to him, my homework paid off.”

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