Ostracised back home, David Murray he had to stay in Australia till 1991 © Getty Images
Ostracised back home, David Murray he had to stay in Australia till 1991 © Getty Images

David Murray, born May 29, 1950, was a Barbados and West Indies wicketkeeper. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a career marred and brought to an early end for several reasons.

For the uninitiated, David Murray, son of Everton Weekes, was a fantastic wicketkeeper, and ought to have played many more international matches than 19 Tests and 10 ODIs. There were several reasons that led to his career being truncated: his career was sandwiched between two of the finest West Indian glovemen of all time — Deryck Murray and Jeff Dujon, which meant that he could play international cricket only sporadically.

He also had a consistent involvement with drugs, which wrecked him completely — not only professionally, but also personally. If that was not enough, being a part of the 1983-84 rebel tour to South Africa not only made a comeback impossible — but it also made him a pariah in his own country.

Despite all that, Murray was a fantastic wicketkeeper. He crouched low, had nimble feet and anticipated the movement — even the late ones — quite capably, and moved very quickly on either side; some of his acrobatic leg-side takes were worth a watch. Michael Holding had ranked him as the best among those who have kept wickets to him. Additionally, he was a flamboyant yet dependable batsman who played quite a few good innings at both Test and First-Class level.

Murray scored 601 runs at 21.46 from 19 Tests, scoring 3 fifties, and effected 57 catches and 5 stumpings. He kept wickets in 34 innings, which gave him a tally of 1.82 dismissals per innings. Of all West Indies wicketkeepers with 50 or more dismissals, only Courtney Browne (2.25) and Gerry Alexander (1.91) have superior numbers.

Murray’s First-Class numbers were better — 4,503 runs at 30.84 from 114 matches including seven hundreds; additionally, he pouched 293 catches and stumped 30 batsmen in 176 innings, which gave meant he had 1.83 dismissals per innings.
First-Class debut

David Murray made his First-Class debut against Combined Leeward and Windward Islands at Castries in 1970-71. Playing alongside existing or future Test cricketers like Garry Sobers, Seymour Nurse, David Holford, Keith Boyce, Vanburn Holder, Robin Bynoe, and Peter Lashley, Murray had a forgettable debut, scoring a single run, and taking a catch and a stumping.

However, Murray did not concede a single bye in the match, and the Barbados selectors persisted with him. He played Shell Shield matches, and soon became their primary wicketkeeper — including the tour match the Australians played against Barbados in 1972-73.

He was selected as an understudy to Deryck Murray for the England tour of 1973. In the match against Kent, David Murray, playing as a specialist batsman, walked out to join Maurice Foster with the score on 104 for 5. The pair added 215, and Murray eventually went on to score 107 not out — his maiden First-Class hundred. He did not get a chance to play the Tests, but ended the tour with an impressive 285 runs at 35.62 from 10 matches, as well as effecting 36 victims. He made his ODI debut, though, at The Oval, batting at four and remaining unbeaten on one as the winning runs were scored.

David Murray continued his fine form on the twin tours of India and Pakistan as well, scoring 337 runs at 56.17 — as well as 13 victims from 6 matches. He was good enough to score a 103 not out and putting up an unbeaten partnership of 156 with Viv Richards (who batted below Murray) against an attack comprising of EAS Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar against Karnataka at Ahmedabad.

Despite his form he could not find a spot in the Test side — not even as a specialist batsman, since by then West Indies had a star-studded batting line-up. Refusing to give up, he scored a 106 not out against Guyana at Kensington Oval the same season.

Drugs: the first signs

His stint with drugs became known on the ill-fated Australia tour of 1975-76 where the Australians steamrolled West Indies by an emphatic 5-1 margin. Murray’s affinity towards marijuana became known, and the team management would have sent him back home — if not for the intervention of the sympathetic Lance Gibbs: “he is a young man; he’s got a future in West Indies cricket; we can’t do this.”

It was revealed that Murray had smoking issues at an age of 11 or 12, and had taken to marijuana soon afterwards. He later said “it [marijuana] gives you good meditation… concentration you know. Not that you did it to enhance your performance.” He often smoked pot before and after a day’s play, though he was at least sensible enough to not break the final barrier —”but never in the breaks — you can’t do that”.

Test debut

By now David Murray was out of the contention for a Test status completely. Not only were Lloyd’s army of fast bowlers comfortable with Deryck Murray and were on a winning spree, the latter was also elevated to the status of the West Indian vice-captain. Additionally, Deryck had a respectable image, which meant that David, despite touring as deputy, could not break through.

However, when Kerry Packer arrived on the scenario, several teams including West Indies lost many of their star players to World Series Cup cricket. When Australia arrived in West Indies in 1977-78, Lloyd led his side to easy wins in the first three Tests at Queen’s Park Oval and Kensington Oval.

The selectors, however, decided to drop Desmond Haynes, Richard Austin, and Deryck Murray for the third Test at Bourda because of their association with World Series Cricket. As a result, Lloyd resigned in protest, Alvin Kallicharran was appointed captain, and West Indies fielded five debutants – which included David Murray.

Amidst all the confusion, Australia won the third Test by three wickets. Murray scored 21 and 16 on debut, and took the catch of Bobby Simpson — his first in Tests. West Indies won the fourth Test at Queen’s Park Oval and drew the last one at Sabina Park, and though Murray didn’t shine with the bat, he took eight victims from the two Tests.

The India tour

For the first time David Murray went on a tour as the main wicketkeeper of West Indies. He impressed all and sundry in the first Test at Bombay, scoring a gutsy 84 in 258 minutes, as well as taking three catches. India won the six-Test series 1-0, but Murray, with 5 catches in each of the Tests at Madras and Delhi, finished with 261 runs at 29, 17 catches, and a stumping from 6 Tests.

It was also in Bombay, however, that his stint with drugs was refueled. Murray later revealed: “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.” It was roughly about this time that Murray took to cocaine as well.

It did not affect his form, though: in the tour match against East Zone at Jamshedpur, Murray hammered a career-best 206 not out and lifted the tourists from 44 for three to enable Kallicharran to declare at 500 for 4. The West Indians won by an innings thanks to a 20-year old Malcolm Marshall’s 11-wicket haul. In the very next match he made a Test-saving 66 at Calcutta after opening the batting.

Later days

Despite his addition to drugs, David Murray continued to play for West Indies — and did so quite competently. Though his batting was on the wane, but he was still a fine wicketkeeper.

He played all four Tests in Pakistan and finished with 142 runs at 23.67 and 10 victims as West Indies won the series 1-0. He did not do too well with the bat in the home series against England, but he took 13 catches from the four Tests he played. West Indies won the series 3-0.

The final tour

After Deryck Murray’s retirement, David assumed the duty of the leading wicketkeeper, with Dujon as his deputy. Murray had broken a finger during a tour match, but sensing competition from Dujon, he decided to play on in the Tests — more so because there were already speculations that Dujon was a significantly better batsman.

In the first Test at Melbourne, Dujon played as a specialist batsman while Murray kept wickets — and took nine catches in the Test, setting a new Test record for West Indies (going past the West Indies record of seven victims held jointly by Clyde Walcott and Deryck Murray), but Dennis Lillee won the Test for Australia with a ten-wicket haul. Despite his place being under threat, Murray did a commendable job, and did enough to stick to his slot.

In the second Test at Sydney, Dujon played as a batsman again — and scored 44 and 48. Murray, once again playing with a broken finger, scored 13 and one, but took three catches. As a result the selectors decided to prefer Dujon over Murray for the subsequent ODIs in the ongoing tournament that also involved Australia and Pakistan.

Murray wasn’t pleased. In his own words — “I played two Tests back-to-back with a broken finger, 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 $1,000.”

The rebel

David Murray never played an international match again, though he did a more than decent job back home, averaging 59.67 with the bat from three matches as well as taking 12 catches. However, with Dujon doing a great job both with the bat and the gloves, it was evident that time had run out for Murray.

The next season Murray joined a group of cricketers who went on a rebel tour to South Africa, and repeated the action the next year. There were some amazing talents in the rebel tour squads — including Kallicharran, Lawrence Rowe, Colin Croft, Bernard Julien, Collis King, Austin, Sylvester Clarke, Collis King, Franklyn Stephenson, Ezra Moseley, and Herbert Chang.

On hindsight, most of these cricketers were the ones whose careers were over, or the ones with a very low probability of breaking through to the all-conquering West Indies Test side. West Indian domestic cricket was not as financially rewarding as County Cricket, which was, once again, dominated by the West Indian Test stars.

Murray was ‘rewarded’ with $120,000 for the twin tours. There was a huge roar of protest across the West Indian islands — which were, for once, unanimous in their voice against the rebel tours. The Daily Mail of Barbados wrote: “Perhaps, as they make their long journey to Johannesburg, the players can reflect on the fact that, had they been born in Soweto and not St Peter, Cape Town and not Spanish Town, their sporting talent would never have seen the light of day.”

Lloyd was quite vocal as well: “I know that some of them are out of work and the money is very tempting but that is not all in life”. In his History of West Indian Cricket, Michael Manley later wrote: “To the members of the black diaspora the oppression which continues unabated in South Africa has become the symbol of more than a tyranny to be overthrown. Apartheid points like a dagger at the throat of black self-worth in every corner occupied by the descendants of Africa.”

On the other hand, there were voices of support as well. Writing for the Sun Herald, Lawson Bayley wrote: “Something is seriously wrong when men who live in glass houses, drive air-conditioned Mercedes, eat lunch at a hotel every day, vacation in Paris and keep two wives can tell a poor man that he must emotionally turn away money in a society that makes money its god.” Writing for the Nation, Tony Cozier explained the financial situation of the rebels that had to undertake the tour more for survival than for luxury.

Barring a few hiccups, most of the cricketers enjoyed the tour, and had experiences they narrated later amidst a lot of protests from the coloured population. Murray himself recollected: “The kids had never imagined they would meet any cricketers. Seeing us and being coached by us, they were completely ecstatic.”

Murray played nine matches over the two tours: he scored 347 runs at 21.69 with a highest score of 43, but more significantly, he took 38 catches in those games. He was successful in general — but was ostracised back home, to the extent that he had to stay in Australia till 1991.

The rebel tour wrecked David Murray, scarring him for the rest of his life © Getty Images
The rebel tour wrecked David Murray, scarring him for the rest of his life © Getty Images

Later years

Murray returned to West Indies in 1991, as mentioned above. Some of the other rebels found employment somewhere or the other. Clarke, for example, had a decent County career; Stephenson did better, replacing Richard Hadlee at Nottinghamshire and making it worth. The others found employment elsewhere.

On the other hand, an exceptional talent like Austin has resorted to begging in Jamaica and is a cocaine addict, and the Test player Chang’s location remains unknown after he turned broke. Murray, unfortunately, is on the same boat: he is broke, lives in his childhood residence at Station Hill, and has been reduced to a bone-and-skin frame, and still is unable to overcome the menace of drugs.

Murray had to adapt to a harsh life for survival and to support his addiction. In between all this, Murray’s son Ricky Hoyte, playing for Barbados, kept the wicketkeeping legacy alive.

Murray could have been the backbone of a champion West Indian side. Instead, he lives in anonymity, poverty, and virtually a wreck — simply because he never realised the importance of discipline in a sportsperson’s life.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)