Keith Boyce was the stonewalled, who also bowled leg breaks, and as a soccer goalkeeper let in six against Chelsea? Improbable though it seems the answer is Keith David Boyce of Barbados and Essex fast bowler and big-hitting batsman a leading six-bitter in the Players County League, scorer of the fastest 50 in 23 minutes, and winner of the Bass-Charrington single wicket tournament with an inning in the final of 84 off 46 balls.
If there is one player in English cricket batsman who needs to cause an excited stir as he walks to the wicket it is Boyce. First, he has to dispose of his football career. He kept the goal for Barbados when Chelsea touring the West Indies won 6-0. Thereafter Keith Boyce decided to concentrate on cricket, a decision which could not have been all that difficult as he says he was already playing from sunrise until twilight which steals swiftly but gently over Barbados.
Thus, already Keith Boyce had reached the high level of Barbados “B” and played regularly with Everton Wakes Seymour Nurse and Charlie Griffith for Empire one of the island’s TOM powerful clubs. To use his own words he was essentially a defensive batsman rarely hitting the ball purposefully, particularly in front of the wicket. A games master at the school, where Keith staved until he was persuaded a change of Wyk and method thereby earning the everlasting gratitude of every spectator who has been thrilled by the sight of a drive off the back foot screaming over extra cover’s head. In matches, Boyce was a leg-breaker bowler. In the nets he let himself go as a fast bowler.
It was as a leg spinner that he was chosen to play for Barbados against the touring Cavaliers in February. 1965—a match destined to change his life and career. The story is well-known. Trevor Bailey then secretary of Essex signed Keith Boyce and Leslie Ames. Mill secretary of Kent engaged John Shepherd. Yet I doubt if Bailey knows to this day the extent of his luck. The fixture took place some days before the first Test of the West Indies-Australia series, and Barbados’ fast bowlers.
Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith were ordered to Jamaica before they had been expected to do so. Boyce did not know until he arrived at the ground that he was required to open the bowling, instead of using his leg spinners. Bailey was so impressed that at the first interval, he contacted Boyce and actually engaged him as a fast bowler before he had seen him bat. As it was Boyce scored 55 in the second innings, his first knock of the match. When he arrived in England to start his two years of qualification Boyce had his first coaching lessons. At home, there had been the advice of Dr. Berrie Clarke, E A. V. Williams, and Denis Atkinson.
Test bowlers all and to whom he is especially indebted, not to mention the guidance of his father. Keith Boyce is a well-known local player and Uncle Gerald who often played for Barbados as a wicket keepers batsman. Direct coaching was something entirely new. But as Frank Rose, the Essex coach wisely told him unless he mastered the forward defensive stroke for English conditions he might as well catch the first banana boat back home.
The stroke need not be modeled on the famous one by T R B ….Y. but learn one he must – At the Indoor School in the winter months.” Rig recalls. “Keith was always the first to the artist and the last to leave. His enthusiasm was almost frightening. In the summer for the 2nd XI and in odd games for the Club and Ground he often terrified the opposition.
Once he made 125 runs before lunch and he didn’t even start until 12.30! The irony was that until his innings there was some concern about the slow scoring rate.” In his first game for Essex in 1966 while he was still qualifying for the championship, he took nine for 61 against Cambridge University and 108 in all figures which helped to get his 100 wickets in first-class cricket in a short time. The 100th actually came in mid-afternoon in torrid heat at Karachi when playing for the Commonwealth team. Which he managed in 1968. In fact, it was so hot that only Boyce was able to bowl at his normal speed, and the proceedings were suddenly enlivened by a whoop of triumph when Boyce hit the stumps.
The others swear the bails had not yet reached the ground before Boyce was shouting -That’s my 100th. lads.” I like to think that the unofficial tour of Pakistan contributed much to the improvement of Keith Boyce’s bowling. Before playing every morning he was coached by the skipper. Richie Benaud concentrated on reducing the length of the final strides of his approach to the wicket and bowling closer to the stumps to make his outswinger more effective. All advice was absorbed like a sponge.
His eagerness was unquenchable. Even when he was rested he was first the team coach he might be needed on the field. At Lahore, I suggested he return to the hotel swimming pool. In a few minutes, the answer was given as he raced onto the field to act as a substitute for the opposition!
The fact is he was born to play cricket and he unashamedly loves every moment of it. In the field, he has the grace of a panther. He has speed, balance, and a powerful arm. He catches everything and recently Essex who is always experimenting with the cause of improvement has discovered he is their best close-to-the-wicket catcher. Keith Boyce fits perfectly into the style of the young Essex team so skillfully and keenly led by Brian Taylor and one-day cricket might have been invented for his special pleasure.
Yet not all his best and most exciting innings have been on Sundays and in the Gillette Cup. There was the 147 against Hampshire at Ilford in June which won for Essex a match they had frankly given up for lost at the start of the third day. When Keith Boyce attacks the best of bowling can be reduced to shreds. In an hour the entire course of a match changed. “I confess I prefer an attacking game.” he says, “I feel it is my natural instinct to hit a ball, despite my early years when I was a defensive batsman.
If the ball is pitched up to me I try and hit it at far as I can, and when it goes a long way I have a deep inner satisfaction. I have never regretted taking up the game professionally, and I can’t understand any player not enjoying it tremendously. “In my youth, my hero was Everton Wakes, but after a while, I confess I changed to Gary Sobers, whom I beat in the first round of the single wicket competition at Lord’s. For me, that was a tremendous experience although I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry that I had put out the great Gary, the hot favorite to win.
After the match, Gary told me that I would go on to win, and that gave me all the confidence I needed.” Confidence! Back foot sixes over cover sweeps pulls and hooks into ‘he Tavern Stand! The final was pure Keith Boyce. Admittedly there was a short boundary between the Tavern side and his opponent.
Brian Bolus at 35 was not only 10 years older but already had been through three long matches because of his modest bowling. Yet of the 46 balls he received, Keith Boyce failed to wear from only seven despite being knocked unconscious by a bullet return from the field from the seventh ball. “For a couple of minutes I was dead out,” he says. “The accident must have knocked a bit of sense into me. I felt the message must be for me to hit the ball not for the ball to hit me.”
As Arthur Jepson said: “If it had been anyone else but Keith I reckon the contest would have been finished then and there. But the ball after his accident hit through the covers with astonishing force.- There can be no doubt that the West Indies gravely erred in not having Keith Boyce in their party this season.
I am sure if the selection had rested with Gary Sobers he would have included Keith Boyce. Indeed Gary Sobers unsuccessfully tried to influence his co-selectors to call up Keith Boyce for the third Test at Leeds. Instead, John Shepherd was played, and, as events proved, he was never fit. The West Indies could have well have drawn the aerial if they had brought in Keith Boyce. They will be singularly unwise to repeat the mistake in future series.