Keith David Boyce
October 11, 1943, Castle, St Peter, Barbados
October 11, 1996, Bridgetown, Barbados, (aged 53y )
Also Known As
Right hand Bat
Right arm Fast medium
`Stingray' was what they called him, Fletch says. Unpredictable or what. You never knew quite what excitement there would be in the next half-hour. Like carbon-dating, the reference to a kids' TV puppet show slots the first-class career of Keith Boyce into a time frame. It began in 1964 in his native Barbados and finally came to a close one June day in 1977 when he was forced out of the game he worshipped by a knee condition that left this marvellous, natural athlete hobbling arthritically for the rest of his life.
In 13 years, he had taken 852 wickets - 60 of them in 21 Test matches for West Indies but the vast bulk of them for his county home-from-home, Essex- with lithe, explosive pace bowling, and scored 8800 biff-bang-wallop runs at around 22 per innings. By some distance he bowled better than he batted: he was capable, though, of batting better than he did. His throwing arm was a cannon. `We all backed up when Boycey had the ball,' Fletcher remembers. `Specially if Tonker was keeping,' he adds wistfully. As a limited-overs cricketer Boyce was supreme at that time: the first to the 100-wicket/1000-run double in the John Player League, and figures of 8 for 26 against Lancashire, still a Sunday record.
The knee injury, legacy of the strain placed on the joints by years of revving the Boyce of sharing in the spoils to which his career was a precursor. Initially under the sergeant-major leadership of Brian `Tonker' Taylor, and then as part of Keith Fletcher's small group of mad-cap renegades, he was a keystone in the foundations of the modern Essex. Given decent fitness, he might reasonably have played on into the early 1980s and shared in the triumphs. Instead, by 1979, when the county won its very first trophies, he was back home in Barbados, pining for the game.
In the five years from the start of 1971, he saw his country through difficult transitional times too. He played in home series against India. Australia and England as well as touring India, Pakistan, Australia and England twice - in 1973, when he had a brilliant series with the ball, and 1975, when he helped West Indies lift the inaugural World Cup. But it was only a few months after that, in the gloomy aftermath of the 5-1 drubbing inflicted by Ian Chappell's side, that Clive Lloyd vowed that never again would West Indies suffer such indignity, and called up the war machine. Roberts and Holding were already in place, Daniel, Garner, Croft, Marshall followed, and after the last of those defeats, at Melbourne, Boyce represented his region no more. His private life was frequently in turmoil - benefit money came and went, and so eventually did his marriage. His Caribbean home blew away in a hurricane and his drinking, never understated, became heavy. But sometimes the Caribbean looks after his own, and his life regained some purpose with a job running the Barbados Cricket Association lottery and coaching youngsters. His affair with the bottle ended, but on his 53rd birthday, he collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack.
It was happenstance that brought Boyce from Bridgetown's Empire club to Essex. In early 1965, aged 21, he was chosen, as a leg-spinner, for Barbados against the Cavaliers, an English touring side that included Trevor Bailey, then Essex secretary, and the young Fletcher. With Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith on Test duty, he was instructed to bowl fast instead. Bailey liked what he saw, brought him to England, and set him up in digs on Leytonstone High Road, opposite Fletcher. Boyce spent much of his two-year qualification encased in an army greatcoat which, with the collar turned up, reached from his boots to beyond the top of his head.
Boyce loved Essex and Essex reciprocated the affection. He bowled fast with undimmed enthusiasm from the day he started to the day he finished. That half-an-hour of batting could change a game: an hour could win it. In a nice juxtaposition, he joined Fletcher as one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year in 1974, after taking 19 wickets in three matches against England the previous summer. By that time, he had long since established himself as an enforcer for Essex, ahead of his time maybe. The game then, says Fletcher, was tough but somehow gentler. If a tailender got stuck in then generally he was applauded. Against Essex, though, that changed. Twenty minutes' defiance at the crease was enough for Taylor's ruddy features to redden further before his patience ran out with the steam from his ears. `I've `ad enough,' he would growl. `Come and'ave a bowl, KD. `It these gloves, son.' And Keith David Boyce, complying, would bounce the crap out of you.
Mike Selvey, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding