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July 2006: The Score

Stayin' alive

David Murray could have ben great; now he's a wreck. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan met the former West Indies keeper in Bridgetown

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan meets a wreck who could have been a legend

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David Murray wonders where it all went wrong © Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

It's tragic that many of Bridgetown's younger generation consider David Murray a castaway roaming the streets. His skeletal frame and unkempt Rastafarian braids suggest as much, but behind that visage is a gentle man, sharing a joke, talking cricket and reflecting on what could have been. Murray, a brilliant keeper and stylish batsman, was one step away from being a part of the legendary side of the 1980s. Sadly, it turned out to be a bridge too far.

Murray, Sir Everton Weekes's son, was born into greatness. Local observers talk about the soft hands that characterised his keeping style, and the flair with which he approached his batting. Yet he managed only 19 Tests; his namesake Deryck took the wicketkeeper's spot that could well have been his.

Murray lives now in his childhood home in Station Hill, one of Bridgetown's middle-class localities. As one enters, he talks about his financial problems and requests payment for the interview. The cigarettes strewn around the place tell a story, as does the distinct odour of marijuana.

Murray admits that drugs played a part in ruining his life, yet he doesn't regret any of it. Has he got over the smoking problem? "What you mean smoking problem? I was doing it all along... since I was 11 or 12." First cigarettes, then marijuana and finally, in 1978, cocaine.

Did smoking pot enhance his performance? "It gives you good meditation... concentration you know. Not that you did it to enhance your performance." He even took drugs before the start and after the end of a day's play. "But never in the breaks - you can't do that." Murray's penchant for drugs got him into trouble on the 1975-76 tour of Australia. He attributes it to a misunderstanding between him and Bernard Julien, and eventually wriggled out thanks to Lance Gibbs's backing. "If not for Gibbs, they wanted to send me home from Australia. Gibbs said, `He is a young man, he's got a future in West Indies cricket, we can't do this.'"

Murray visited India in 1974-75 and 1977-78 and had a fine tour with the bat the second time around. Apart from two crucial fifties in the Tests, he managed his only first-class double-hundred in a tour game at Jamshedpur. He fondly recalls that innings, and even more so the attractions of Bombay. "It is very easy to get hashish in Bombay," he reminisces. "A waiter at the team hotel started the whole thing. There was a market there, near the Gateway of India, where you used to get anything, good African marijuana, everything... it's a great place."

The end came during the 1981-82 tour to Australia. Murray played the first two Tests at Melbourne and Sydney but was rested for the one-day series that followed. "I played two Tests back-to-back with a broken finger," he says of the two games. "And they didn't pick me, although I was fitter than before. They wanted me to go with the water cart and I said, `Hey, I am not doing that... I should be playing.' They fined me $1000." Murray never played a Test again. He soon joined the rebel side to South Africa and faced a ban as a result. He lived in Australia for close to seven years before returning to Bridgetown in 1991.

With his financial resources drying up, Murray's future looks bleak. Locals say he spends his days at the beach, making a living out of helping tourists get "stuff". Murray's version is slightly different: "I go to the beach, enjoy myself and stay alive." It doesn't really matter who is right. Here is a man Michael Holding felt was the best keeper who had kept to him; someone who could have been a legend. And here he is now, scoffed at as a pariah by the kids of Bridgetown. Neil Young was probably right: it's better to burn out than to fade away.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo

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