Seymour Nurse © Getty Images
Seymour Nurse © Getty Images

The belligerent Seymour Nurse was born on November 10, 1933. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of many West Indies batsmen who never got the run he deserved because of the stiff competition he faced in from contemporaries.

Had Seymour MacDonald Nurse been born, say, fifty years later, he would probably have played a hundred Tests for West Indies. West Indies would have loved to have him at the middle-order (or even at the top, a position where he had started his career) of their batting line-up.

Nurse was that perfect, rare combination of elegance and strength that makes some batsmen more attractive than others. Writing for The Barbados Nation Philip Spooner called him “classy, stylish, and a wonderful exponent of the art of batting”. His ability to take a Test away from the opposition made him a much-feared batsman; add to that his ability to rise to occasions and scoring big, and you probably get a package as perfect as any.

Nurse scored 2,523 runs at 47.60 from 29 Tests (yes, that few) with 6 hundreds. He played in 9 series (1, 1, and 2 Tests in 3 of them), and crossed 500 runs twice in the remaining 6. His fourth-innings numbers read 362 runs at 72.40 with 2 hundreds.

Nurse’s truncated career had a lot to do with the fact that 20 of these Tests had come after he had turned 32. From 141 First-Class matches Nurse had scored 9,489 runs at 43.93 with 26 hundreds. An outstanding close-in fielder, he held 116 catches, 21 of which came in Tests.

A lively cavalier, Nurse was often the heart of the side: Wes Hall described him as a “wonderful singer” and an excellent mimic. He also went on and on about his hero — a marathon runner called Casso; his ever-eager teammates ‘blessed’ him with the nickname “Casso”.

Early days

Nurse was born in the curiously named Jack-My-Nanny-Gap in Black Rock, St Michael. His father was a carpenter. Seymour was the youngest of four siblings (two brothers and two sisters). Seymour’s elder brother Sinclair was a prodigious leg-spinner, but his shyness was misinterpreted as lack of aggression, and he faded into oblivion.

Seymour had started his career as an opening batsman. A student at St Stephen’s School, Nurse was also an extremely bright student; he quit school at 16 for a livelihood — a decision he would regret later. He played for the Bay Street Boys’ Club in the Barbados League.

He later migrated to Empire Club and came under the tutelage of Everton Weekes: it was Weekes’ guidance and coaching that really transformed Nurse’s career. It was Weekes who had explain the basics of batting to him, including exactly how to get in line with the ball and where to place it. That, as Nurse had later admitted, had helped him migrate from a club-level batsman to a First-Class one.

Also a keen footballer, Nurse went on to represent Barbados; however, he encountered a serious leg injury while playing football; at this point his father gave him possibly the soundest bit of advice in his life: “Stay in cricket and quit football, otherwise you are on your own. Football in Barbados is too rough.” He later helped found a football club called Black Spurs.

Nurse was 24 when he made his First-Class debut in a humdinger against Jamaica. He scored 21 and 35 in a match Barbados lost by 6 runs. In the next match he slammed 128 not out against Jamaica, and two matches later he scored 131 against British Guiana.

In the next season Nurse was picked to play against the touring MCC. He put an attack consisting of Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, and Ray Illingworth to sword, added 306 with Garry Sobers for the third wicket, and scored 213 before Charlie Griffith bowled Barbados to an easy victory.

Given his form and the fact that West Indies had lost the second Test of the series at Queen’s Park Oval, Nurse was drafted into the side for the third Test at Sabina Park as a replacement for the injured Frank Worrell.

Test debut

Nurse recalled: “When I arrived in Jamaica I was met by a wonderful man named McDonald Bailey who took me straight to the hotel.” McDonald would turn out to be an even more wonderful person. “I had only one bat and it had three straps like a sergeant; but Bailey came to my rescue at the perfect time and got a bat called a Perfect,” Nurse later recalled in an interview with Spooner.

Seymour Nurse (left) walks out to bat with Garry Sobers © Getty Images
Seymour Nurse (left) walks out to bat with Garry Sobers © Getty Images

The bat lived up to its brand name. England batted first and scored 277, and Nurse walked out after Easton McMorris was hit by a Statham bouncer (his lung was contused as a result). Nurse cover-drove the first ball from Statham for four. He helped Sobers add a rapid 110, and was eventually caught by Mike Smith at mid-on off Illingworth for 70.

“Inexperience got the better of me. I could have had an easy hundred, but that’s life. You learn as you go along,” explained Nurse later. He was bowled by Trueman (who picked up 4 for 54, all bowled) for 11 in the second innings as West Indies ended on 175 for 6 chasing 230.

Despite a decent outing Nurse was dropped for the next Test at Bourda as Worrell recovered from his injury and Clyde Walcott came out of retirement. England won the series 1-0.

He managed to win a place in the famous tour of Australia later that year. He missed the tied Test at The Gabba, but once recalled at MCG, he played an amazing innings against Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud. After Australia scored 348 West Indies lost the openers with a single run, which was when Rohan Kanhai walked out to join Nurse.

Once again Nurse played an excellent supporting hand. He did not get carried away by Kanhai’s belligerent strokeplay and was perfectly happy to remain in the background. The pair added 123 in 164 minutes of which Kanhai scored 84; Sobers walked out.

It was all Nurse from there. From 124 for 2 West Indies collapsed to 181 and had to follow-on; Nurse was ninth out, caught-behind off Davidson for a 259-ball 70; his innings had lasted 305 minutes and had included a solitary boundary. Other than Kanhai and Nurse nobody managed to reach double-figures for West Indies.

However, he was run out for 3 in the second innings, and there was another collapse. West Indies scored 233 (once again, only three batsmen reached ten), and Australia won comfortably. He scored 43 at SCG and 49 at Adelaide, but was dropped for the last Test at MCG.

He was dropped on his return to West Indies. When the team took an unassailable 3-0 lead in the home series against India, Nurse was brought back for the fourth Test at Queen’s Park Oval. He scored an unbeaten 46 in the fourth innings as the hosts chased down 176. Despite that he was dropped for the last Test at Sabina Park.

The way back

Nurse did not play another Test for three years, despite making it to the tours of England (1963) and the twin tours of India and Pakistan with the Commonwealth XI in 1964-65. His fortune changed when he scored 100 against the International Cavaliers (a bowling attack consisting of Trueman, Trevor Bailey, and Jim Laker).

Injuries did not help his cause, either. On the 1960-61 tour of Australia Nurse injured an ankle and had to travel around in crutches. The 1963 tour of England saw him pull a leg muscle, making him practically invalid for a month. That, with the board’s assessment that Nurse had a “temperament not really suitable to the rigours of international cricket,” delayed his comeback.

Nurse was recalled for the Frank Worrell Trophy at home. He finally got a decent run, playing in 4 Tests; however, in the 8 innings he crossed the 50-mark only once. That innings came in the fourth Test at Kensington Oval when West Indies needed a draw to win the series.

Not only did the openers — Bobby Simpson and Bill Lawry — score double-hundreds, but Bob Cowper plundered a hundred as well. Simpson declared at 650 for 6 and West Indies ran into trouble at 99 for 2 [along with an injury to Conrad Hunte, who was hit on the face by Neil Hawke] when Nurse walked out to join Kanhai.

Once again Nurse got involved in a big partnership with Kanhai. The pair seemed to be taking West Indies to the brink of safety before Kanhai fell after adding exactly 200. Hunte came back after the fall of the wicket. Nurse reached his maiden Test ton, and when he was caught by Simpson at slip off Hawke he had scored 201.

West Indies scored 573, but there was an issue. Jackie Hendriks (arguably the best wicket-keeper West Indies has produced) was hit on the head by Neil McKenzie and had to retire. In his absence Nurse took up gloves and caught Simpson off Sobers. Time eventually ran out as West Indies finished with 242 for 5 chasing 253. The rubber, however, was retained. The innings, however, was enough for Nurse to retain a spot in the tour to England.

Nurse finally arrives

Leaving the Barbadian shores that summer was not easy for Nurse: his twin daughters were three months old. He did not have an excellent start to the English tour, but he kept on playing cameos, crossing 40 in 4 innings out of 5. He was still picked for the first Test at Old Trafford. He had a decent outing, scoring a 72-ball 49 as West Indies defeated England by an innings.

He did a better job in the second Test at Lord’s: walking out at 53 for 3, he top-scored with 64, taking West Indies to 269; England responded with 355; Nurse scored a 39-ball 35 before Sobers and David Holford secured a draw for West Indies. Just before the third Test he scored his first hundred of the tour — 155 against Essex.

“The Nottinghamshire groundsman must be congratulated on preparing a fast true pitch which encouraged the pace bowlers, especially in the early stages of the match,” wrote Wisden of the pitch for the third Test at Trent Bridge. It was under these circumstances that Nurse played what was probably the innings of his career.

West Indies were 80 for 3 when he walked out to bat; he found some company in Peter Lashley, but that was all. John Snow and Ken Higgs ran through the tourists; Nurse played a lone hand, scoring 93 in 142 balls with 11 fours — out of 135 scored during his stay at the wicket.

Nobody else crossed fifty in the innings. Wisden later wrote: “What a delight it was to witness the power and fluency of his (Nurse’s) strokes when things did go right. Anyone who saw his 93 in the first innings of the Nottingham Test will testify to that.”

Though England acquired a 90-run lead Basil Butcher scored a double-hundred and Nurse played a support act of 53; chasing 393 England were bowled out for 253.

The fourth Test at Headingley finally saw Nurse make his second hundred. This time he played second fiddle to Sobers, who scored an electric 260-ball 174, adding 265 for the fifth wicket. So well did Sobers play that Nurse’s innings went almost unnoticed: the Barbadian batted for 341 minutes and faced 323 balls for his 137 that included 14 fours and 2 sixes. Once again West Indies won by an innings.

Seymour Nurse scored 2,523 runs in 29 Tests for the West Indies © Getty Images
Seymour Nurse scored 2,523 runs in 29 Tests for the West Indies © Getty Images

The series lost, England in the final Test at The Oval, winning by an innings. With 259 required to make England bat again, Nurse top-scored, this time with an aggressive 121-ball 70 with 14 fours. West Indies, however, fell short by 34 runs. Nurse finished the series with 501 runs at 62.62, finishing next to only Sobers in terms of runs from either side.

He also scored 1,105 runs on the tour at 44.20 (once again, his performances were better in Tests than in tour matches). He finished only next to Sobers in terms of runs (though Butcher had also amassed 1,105). He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

Nurse’s passion for football also sparked on the tour. Nurse saw all matches of the football World Cup (including the final at Wembley) and “every other game possible”.

Subsequent years

Nurse went to India for the 1966-67 tour without and returned much impact. In the return series for the Wisden Trophy, West Indies conceded a 233-run lead and were asked to follow-on. Nurse, opening the innings with Steve Camacho, decided to counterattack, scoring 73 out of an opening stand of 102. The Test took a strange twist as England, chasing 159, finished with 68 for 8.

He found himself back in form in the fourth Test at Queen’s Park Oval. Once again he found Kanhai for company; the pair added 273, and Nurse fell for 136 with 12 boundaries. The Test, however, is remembered for Sobers’ controversial declaration where he set England 215 to win in 165 minutes. England won by 7 wickets, and claimed the series 1-0.

West Indies did not have a particularly good tour of Australia. They won at The Gabba, but Australia hit back to win by an innings at MCG. Nurse top-scored in the second innings at MCG with 74; with another win at SCG and a draw at Adelaide, Australia simply needed a draw to clinch the Frank Worrell Trophy.

Australia scored 619 and bowled out West Indies for 279. Lawry did not enforce the follow-on and eventually set West Indies a target of 735. In no time, West Indies were reduced to 102 for 5 before Nurse joined Sobers. Sobers dominated the partnership with a whirlwind 120-ball 102, but Nurse batted on patiently, scoring a 204-ball 137 with 18 fours and a six. The Test was not saved, but once again Nurse proved that he could play under pressure.

It was after this tour that Nurse was not impressed by several incidents and announced his retirement from international cricket. Sobers tried to insist him to make himself available for the England tour, but to no avail. He was willing to play the second leg of the tour at New Zealand, though.

Nurse’s final hurrah

Fully aware that this was going to be his last series, Nurse played with supreme confidence. After New Zealand scored 323 he walked out at 25 for 1 and scored 95, dominating a 172-run partnership with Joey Carew. However, from 197 for 1 West Indies somehow managed to collapse to 276.

West Indies were eventually set a stiff target of 345 in 315 minutes. Both Roy Fredericks and Carew had starts, but they took up a lot of time. With the pressure to beat the clock Nurse started taking risks. Wisden wrote: “Nurse, although making many magnificent shots, had many mishits which fell just clear of fieldsmen and three times all but played on.”

Butcher held fort while Nurse plundered runs, eventually adding 174 for the third wicket. Nurse was eventually caught by Bryan Yuile off Dick Motz for 168 with 22 fours and 2 sixes; West Indies cruised home with 5 wickets in hand. New Zealand squared the series at Wellington with Nurse scoring 21 and 16.

Nurse, knowing that it would be his last Test, batted with flair even his teammates had seldom seen before. Walking out at 16 for 1 Nurse was eighth out for 258, his highest score in First-Class cricket. West Indies scored 417, which meant that he had scored 61.87% of the team score. This was the third-highest percentage at that time (though it has now slid to seventh).

Nurse’s 258 is also the highest score by anyone in their last Test innings (though Andy Sandham and Bill Ponsford had scored 325 and 266 respectively in their last Tests, they had to bat again in the Tests). The next on the list is Aravinda de Silva with 206. Nash finished the series with 558 runs at 111.60.

At that point of time only Wally Hammond had scored more runs in a series of 3 Tests or less, though Nurse had subsequently slid to eighth. Nurse’s 111.60 also remains the highest average for any batsman in his last series where he has played 3 or more innings.

Final days

Nurse played First-Class cricket till 1971-72. In his penultimate First-Class match he scored 41 and 93 not out, sealing the Shell Shield for Barbados that season. A couple of weeks later he played his last match against the touring New Zealanders, scoring 76 and a duck.

Post-retirement

After he hung up his boots, Nurse became a coach for Barbados, training men like Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Roland Holder, Carlisle Best, Sherwin Campbell, Pedro Collins, and Dwayne Smith.

Nurse also became the manager of Barbados as well as the West Indies Under-19 side; the head coach of the Barbados National Sports Council; and a Barbados Cricket Association Board Member. His great-nephews Lee and Dean, both born in Basingstoke, now play cricket in England.

The West Indies side showed a wonderful gesture when they celebrated Nurse’s 80th birthday earlier during their current tour of India. WICB President Don Cameron said: “In his playing days he was a champion batsman in the West Indies team and played with class and elegance. He remains an avid supporter of the game and it is always great to see him sitting, watching and analysing the game at Kensington Oval.”

(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 Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)