Obituary: Keith Boyce

Derek Hodgson
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:38

Having produced the greatest cricketing all-rounder, Garfield Sobers, the West Indies have had difficulty in filling the mould. Most of their great batsmen can bowl a little, all their fast bowlers can swing the bat, but the genuine Test-class all-rounder has been rare, Collis King and Keith Boyce apart.

Much depends upon a boy's coaching. Boyce was a product of the famous Empire Club in Barbados. He arrived at the nets as a leg-break bowler with a good defensive batting technique. His coaches soon spotted that he was happier bowling fast and hitting hard. "I like to hit the ball as far as I can," he told Wisden in 1974, when he was a Cricketer of the Year. "When it goes a long way it gives me a deep satisfaction".

When Trevor Bailey saw him appearing for Barbados against Cavaliers in 1965 he signed him as a fast bowler, not having seen his batting. Boyce spent two years qualifying for Essex, playing for the Second XI and Walthamstow, arriving just in time to turn Essex into a major power in the new Sunday League, a form of cricket that might have been devised for him.

In his day he was a prodigious player, fast right arm bowler, a furious striker of the ball and a beautifully athletic fielder, deadly from almost any distance, running out a few famous names.

Adrenalin-fuelled, he was a volatile, excitable man, played upon by his opponents. He had a few memorable clashes with Yorkshire: a plan was devised by his captain, Brian "Tonker" Taylor, to remove Geoffrey Boycott, who had scored 260 not out and 232 in the two pre- ceding Championship games against Essex.

Boyce was instructed to give Boycott a slowish, first-ball bouncer. For once temptation won, Boycott went to hook, the ball flew off his glove directly to Taylor, who dropped it. Taylor, expressionless, flicked the ball back to an angry Boyce, Boycott scored 121 and 86 in the match.

On another occasion when Boyce was batting and Richard Hutton, renowned for a savagely sarcastic sense of humour, was in the Yorkshire slips, a remark was passed. David Bairstow recalled: "I don't know whether Dick was talking about Boycey, West Indians in general or even Chelmsford fish and chips, but Boycey was so mad he carried a picture of Dick around in his top pocket for two years."

Once told to block out for a draw, Boyce responded by hitting an enormous six before being stumped yards out. His repsonse to his captain's rollicking was: "I thought it would waste more time if I kept hitting it over the pavilion."

When all did go right for Boyce it was the opposition who suffered. He once went in to bat at 12.30 and scored a century (125) before lunch at 1.30. He was the first to 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in the Sunday Leaguue; Cambridge University met him on his debut, and he took 9-61; against Leicestershire, in 1973, he had figures of 113 and 12-73.

He played 21 times for the West Indies, touring England in 1973 and 1975, taking 19 wickets at an average of 15 in the three Tests of 1973. In the Prudential World Cup Final of 1975 Boyce's versatility gave the West Indies the decisive edge over Australia. For Essex he scored almost 9,000 runs and took 852 wickets at an average of 25. Add his one-day career and his 215 first-class catches, his loss to Essex and cricket, after 12 summers in England, through injury at the age of 34, can be seen to have been enormous.

His return to Barbados was far from happy, his domestic difficulties including the loss of his house in a storm and the break-up of his marriage. He remained in touch with the game, coaching and organising a lottery in support of the Barbados Cricket Association, and was visiting a drugstore when he collapsed. He will be remembeerd with pride and affection in Essex, for he was one of the names who helped move that county from the backyard to the front room of county cricket.

Derek Hodgson

Keith David Boyce, cricketer: born St Peter, Barbados 11 October 1943; twice married (two daughters); died Barbados 11 October 1996.

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