Keith Boyce: West Indies Forgotten Fast Man

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Martin Chandler profiles West Indian cricketer Keith Boyce in an article for Cricket Web. Here’s an excerpt. For the complete report follow the link below.

Something over which we have no control is the time and place that we are given our opportunities in life. For some people fate plays a perfect hand, whilst for others their talents are never given a proper chance and for a few, like Keith Boyce, there is a halfway house. Boyce had his chance at the highest level, and took it, yet for some reason his name is rarely spoken today despite his being a cricketer who at his peak, and deservedly, drew favourable comparisons with the Caribbean legend Learie Constantine.

Boyce was born in 1943, a product of that small Caribbean island nation that has produced such a disproportionately large number of top class cricketers, Barbados. As a youngster he played for Lancashire, although that was a small village on the island rather than the county of the Red Rose. Later he moved to the famous Empire club in Bridgetown, the nursery of so many of the island’s greats. In those days Boyce was a dour and defensive batsman who bowled leg spin, a very different cricketer to the one who was destined to make his living from the game.

His early pursuit of playing styles that did not suit him held Boyce back, but his breakthrough came in somewhat fortuitous circumstances in February 1965, nine months after a rather sobering introduction to international sport. Towards the end of May of 1964, after a long hard First Division campaign, Chelsea and Wolves took a trip to the Caribbean for a series of five matches at various venues across the region. Including matches against local opposition Chelsea played 11 games in 17 days beginning with a fixture against Barbados, with Boyce in goal. He picked the ball out of the net seven times, and that was the end of any ambitions in that direction.

The game of cricket in February was to be played between Barbados and an International Cavaliers XI. The Cavaliers were made up of a mix of youth and experience but a strong side that contained nine men who either had or would play Test cricket. One of them was Essex and England stalwart Trevor Bailey. The team were managed by former Kent and England wicketkeeper Les Ames. Barbados provided the backbone of the West Indies side in those days, men like Seymour Nurse, Conrad Hunte, Garry Sobers, Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffiths.

There were two First Class games for Barbados against the tourists. The first was drawn by what amounted to a first XI, but on the eve of the second game the Test players were called early to Jamaica where the first Test against Australia was due to begin in a few days. So the side that eventually lined up contained nine debutants, five of whom never played First Class cricket again. They nearly won though, and two of their number, Boyce and John Shepherd, impressed so much on debut that Bailey and Ames had them signed up for their respective counties before the game ended. Still a leg spinner who only bent his back in the nets Boyce was fortunate that Hall and Griffith were both called to Jamaica because, his captain lacking any pace options, he was told he would be taking the new ball. He had only ever bowled quickly in the nets, so it was a challenge, but he impressed Bailey.

. . .

Arthritis set into his knee and Boyce never walked without a limp again. His had been a career with plenty of highs, but the cricket world quickly forgot the man who, in 1973 at the Oval, had led the West Indies out of the doldrums and on the road towards the dominance that they were to enjoy for a decade and a half. Back in Essex he enjoyed a decent benefit but, amidst a marriage breakdown, the proceeds of that ebbed away and his alcohol consumption, never low, went up and up. Eventually, after his home became victim to a hurricane, he was handed back some of his dignity with a job that combined helping to run the Barbados Cricket Association lottery and coaching youngsters. But with damage already done and an inability to give up alcohol completely on 11 October 1996, his 53rd birthday, Keith Boyce succumbed to a heart attack. They do say that only the good die young, and all who knew him said Stingray was one of the very best, as a man as well as a cricketer.

For the original report go to http://www.cricketweb.net/blog/features/620.php

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