Junior Murray © Getty Images
Junior Murray, born on January 20, 1968 came through Caribbean cricket stables during their terminal decline. He had his share of bright moments, but eventually faded away from the scene. Bharath Ramaraj has more.
Ever since the retirement of legendary Jeffrey Dujon, West Indies have struggled to unearth a fine stumper-cum batsman. In the 1990s, Junior Murray from the tiny Island of Grenada was one of those who tried to fill the gaping hole left behind by Dujon, albeit with not much success. He showed flashes of brilliance with the bat and that odd fine catch behind the stumps won him praise, but was too inconsistent. His wicketkeeping was gawky on most occasions and eventually, was jettisoned from the team.
All those years ago in 1987-88, when Barbados still had the likes of Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Virbert Greene playing for them, Murray made his debut and played couple of games for Windward Islands in the Red Stripe Cup against their formidable foes. It was baptism by fire for the wicketkeeper against a quality side, and unmistakably, he struggled to come to grips against Barbados.
In fact, until the 1991-92 season, he was lampooned as one of those also ‘ran in’s the domestic circuit. But during that season, he engineered a remarkable turnaround by raking up runs and averaging close to 48 for Windward Islands. There were still question marks lingering over his wicketkeeping though.
Actually, his fine season with the bat helped Murray to be picked up for the series against Australia, Down Under in 1992-93. After David Williams‘s rather indifferent form in the first two Tests of the series, Murray made his debut at Sydney Cricket Ground in the third Test (SCG). Other than being witness to the Prince of Trinidad, Brian Lara‘s sublime batsmanship, he didn’t have much to do in a high-scoring game.
It was during the see-saw battle at Adelaide in the fourth Test that Murray scored runs in adversity. His knock of 49 in the first innings on a deteriorating track is hardly mentioned, but those runs proved to be worth its weight in gold in a low scoring thriller.
Junior Murray played for the Windies in the 90s, majorly because of lack of competition © Getty Images
However, Murray reached noteworthy crusts only in 1994-95 when West Indies toured India and New Zealand, respectively. His rousing charge against India’s spin troika in a losing cause at Mumbai in the first Test of the series in 1994 is one to remember. Next up on the cards, his one and only century at Basin Reserve, Wellington against New Zealand, when he clambered a hapless pace attack gave hope that at least West Indies might have found a decent batsman. He was still prone to making too many errors behind the stumps. But with Courtney Browne and Williams around, he was always going to struggle to cling onto his place. In the series against Australia in 1995, Glenn McGrath took a liking to bowling to Murray. The wicketkeeper-batsman poked and prodded outside his off-stump, and it was a sorry sight to watch Murray going down to giving nice and easy catching practice to slip fielders.
Browne replaced him for the final Test match of that series at Kingston, Jamaica. Even on the subsequent tour of England, both Murray and Browne were fighting for the wicketkeeper’s slot. With just one fifty to his name since that century in New Zealand in 1995, Murray’s days as West Indies‘ No 1 wicketkeeper seemed to be numbered. Finally, South Africa‘s battery of pacers exposed his lack of technique to the hilt in 1998-99 and he was dropped. It shocked everyone when he was recalled from the wilderness for the Test match against India at Port of Spain, Trinidad in 2002. But that turned out to be the last time he wore the white flannels for West Indies.
On a few occasions in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), he did make a name for himself with the willow in hand. One of his better knocks came while batting at top of the order against the famed Pakistan attack made up of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed at Adelaide in 1996. His calculated pyrotechnics helped West Indies to crush Pakistan in that game.
It can be argued that Junior Murray played for West Indies in the 1990s, mainly due to a lack of confluence of talent coming through the Caribbean system. But Murray can be proud of the fact that he did play international cricket and that is something most of us can only dream of.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)