Black History Month: Keith Boyce


Our third feature of Black History Month highlights one of the Club’s greatest ever Overseas players, Keith Boyce.

Of all the Overseas players to have pulled on as Essex sweater, Boyce probably exerted the greatest influence on the team, and when you reflect on the fact that great players such as Allan Border, Mark Waugh, Kenny McEwan and Stuart Law followed in his footsteps, that highlights how remarkable he was.

Boycey arrived at Chelmsford in the mid-60’s after Trevor Bailey had seen him bowling in the West Indies against the International Cavaliers. So impressive was he that Trevor signed him without watching him bat. Arriving in England he had to embark upon a two-year qualifying period and when he did make his first-class debut, he marked the occasion with figures of 9/61 against Cambridge University in June 1966.

In his first full season for the County, Boyce scored just under 1,000 runs and captured 81 wickets as he quickly became a player to be feared and respected.

It was in the one-day format that he enhanced his reputation as an all-rounder, becoming the first player in the Sunday League to reach 1,000 runs and 100 wickets.

In the Championship he also proved a foe to be reckoned with, a cricketer hell-bent on giving everything whatever the state of the game. As far as he was concerned there was no such thing as a lost cause.

His commitment to the County was total although he could inspire admiration and frustration in equal measure. He smashed a century in just under an hour against Leicestershire at Chelmsford as he left his adoring public taking evasive action from the onslaught on several occasions. But his desire to entertain so often proved his undoing as, on a number of other occasions, he perished cheaply swinging across the line trying to propel the ball into orbit.

That century against Leicestershire was one of only three he scored at first-class level for Essex and a total of 6,848 runs at an average of just under 23 hardly did justice to his immense talent. But his haul of 662 wickets at 23.72 runs certainly did.

Boyce scored over 2,000 runs and took around 250 wickets in limited-over games while as a fielder he would leave spectators gasping with his ability to swoop on the ball in the deep and in one movement, feet off the ground, hurl it accurately over the top of the stumps.

Boyce went on to play 21 Tests for the West Indies and in 1973, was to prove a key figure as they recaptured the Wisden Trophy with Boyce shining with figures of 11/147 at The Oval and 8/99 at Lord’s.

His heavy workload though took its toll on his knees and it was a great loss when he was forced to retire in 1977, his benefit year, and after an emotional farewell to Chelmsford, he returned to Barbados where sadly, personal problems blighted his life.

Matters seemed to have improved when he took a position running the Barbados Cricket Association lottery and coaching youngsters but sadly, on his 53rd birthday, he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Keith will always be remembered for helping to lay the foundation of an Essex side that dominated the late 70’s and 80’s in becoming one of the most successful and entertaining sides in the land.

Certainly, he left cricket lovers with many fond memories.