`J.T.` retires

This Summer, on 31 May to be exact, John Murray passed the world record for wicket- keeping dismissals when he caught Dud- ley Owen-Thomas of Surrey of the bowling of Tim Lamb. This was his 1,494th victim and the record he overtook was held by Herbert Strudwick. In September Murray retired.

As a young lad in North Kensington John Murray turned his hand to many sports and was pleased to have a trial at Lord`s as a batsman-cum-bowler. Yet he was playing in the final of a Boys` Club competition when his wicket-keeper broke a finger and `J.T.` took over. It was still as a batsman that he was taken on the Lord`s ground staff in 1950, but Archie Fowler, the head coach, had him `keeping straightaway, and progress was so fast that two years later he had deputised for the injured Leslie Compton at Leicester. There followed two years in a powerful Royal Air Force side, and at the end of 1955 he took over from Compton, the fol- lowing year winning his cap. Since then he has been an automatic choice for Middlesex as well as an England Test cricketer twenty-one times.

In that long career, achievements have heaped up and there will be those who recall his century against the West In- dies at The Oval in the fifth Test of 1966 with special relish. Never before in Test cricket had the last three wickets produced as much as 361 runs, never had the last three men scored one hun- dred and two fifties. `J.T.` was lbw bowled Sobers 112; Ken Higgs caught and bowled Holford 63; and John Snow not out 59. Though it was Murray`s partnership with Graveney that I remember most . (I was twelth man and pretty close to the action.)

The West Indies were three Tests up, one drawn, and there was nothing to salvage for England save some pride. Tom Graveney had played magnificently through the series and in this test scored 165. Graveney and Murray at the crease together for hours made the most aesthetically pleasing sight imaginable.

Murray struck me as one of the rare people I have seen who could make the hooking of a fast bouncer truly elegant. Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith thundered in, but he pivoted with the bal- ance of an ice skater and wafted the ball powerfully to leg. His drives off the front foot were taken out of the MCC coaching manual, sideways on, left foot right to the pitch of the ball, and the follow-through generous. His wicket-keeping has always been stylish, and there is no doubt that he makes a conscious ef- fort to preserve that feeling in all his movements. As a bowler runs into bowl `J.T.` is syncronised to touch fingertips, and raise both hands to the peak of his cap. Then, as he adopts the crouching position, his gloves are meticulously placed together, open for inspection, just touching the floor, his balance like a gymnast`s. He always claimed to model his art on the talents of Wally Grout. `I felt as I watched him` confessed Murray, `that here was the perfect pair of hands. I felt I wanted to keep wick- et like him. He read the game so well, positionally right, you know, never diving unless he was going for a catch.`

After collecting the ball there comes the daily chore of lobbing it back to the bowler or to a fielder. Murray makes of this one of the miniature delights of physical movement. The body bends slightly to make room for a long, languid, swinging arm. He truly cares about such things.

There are very few batsmen who played over the last twen- ty years who were not, at some time or other, caught Murray bowled Titmus. They were complimentary characters. Almost without a sign to each other, Fred could feed `J.T`s` stumping skills by firing a ball quickly down the leg side, at almost yorker length. Then there was the drifter, floating away to the slips. `J.T.` was very much part of the success of Fred Titmus.

On tour he has been a marvellously companion in spite of the bad luck of being the reserve more often than in the Test side. He was blocked mainly by the selectors` preference for Jim Parks who could bat and also keep wicket, in that order. It is a policy easy to decry now, but `J.T.` would be the first to point out that Jim did many fine things for England behind the stumps and in front of them.

I recall his humour as the Commonwealth side of 1968 bat- tled with an odd-looking meal in our residence, the Public Works Department Rest House, Sargodha, in Pakistan. Every waiter or bearer all over the world he called `George`. Coming in to dinner he saw everyone struggling with the sight and the smell of an unusual looking chicken curry; everyone except John Hampshire that is, who insisted it was good stuff. One sniff was enough for `J.T.`

`Don`t worry, lads,` he said, marching into the kitchen. We could hear his voice slow, deliberate and very London saying, `Now, George, look here. These are the eggs; you crack `em open like this ... and fry them ... like that. Now don`t go away, George, look here. These are the potatoes ... peel `em, slice `em, fry `em too ... egg and chips, George. OK, jaldi, jaldi. Oh, and George, every meal the same.`

Johnny Hampshire left the field the next day in much haste, returning two days later about two stone lighter.

John Murray came up the hard way. Young lads on the Lord`s ground staff in his day laboured at the very bottom of a strict hierarchy. They sold scorecards, swept stands, bowled to members or pulled the vast heavy roller. Could he have imagined then how his career would end? Lord`s packed out, the Gillette cup fi- nal. Middlesex against Lancashire, and a standing ovation as he made his way for the last ime from the Long Room to the mid- dle. The cheers must have been heard in those dark recesses of Lord`s where scorecards are churned out on clanking machines, where brooms are kept and boots repaired and, without seeing, all recogised the departure of one of their favourite sons.

Twenty years of endeavour, success and disappointment must have welled up inside him, but perfectly dressed, smartly walk- ing, he raised his bat with certainty and, yes, style, and even as Lancashire were hammering home their victory, later in the day, and the prize was lost, `J.T.`was as ever fingertipping his peak, fingertipping his peak ... crouching wicket-keeping art.

A Summer of cricket, 1975

Reproduced from `Cricket around the world` by Tony Lewis.