John Murray was one of the great ones. Not a champion cricketer, in the ilk of a Edrich or Compton, his early Middlesex teammates, but a champion bloke, kind, modest, brave, loyal and always exceedingly generous.
In a tribute, Middlesex CC president and former Test off-spinner John Emburey said Murray had been the finest wicketkeeper in club history and would be one of the first names on any team sheet when selecting the all-time best Middlesex XI.
With 670 first-class dismissals and 21 Tests including six against Australia in the early ‘60s, Murray built an enviable record and did it with style, grace and humility.
He kept throughout the 1961 Ashes and would have played more in 1962-63 but for dislocating his shoulder mid-tour in Sydney ‘diving at least 12 feet’ to catch Bill Lawry down the leg-side from the bowling of Len Coldwell.
He loved every moment of the tour, even the up-country games and told his biographer, Christopher Sandford, that one of the off-field highlights came early in Perth when Tony Lock, representing Western Australia after controversially being left out of the original squad, was re-making acquaintances in the WACA nets.
‘When (Ted) Dexter saw him,’ said Murray, ‘he flipped Lock the ball and gaily invited him to come bowl at us in the nets and Lockie flung it straight back at Ted like a ruddy Exocet (missile). It nearly took his head off.’
Old wounds certainly had not healed.
Like the leading Australians at the time, even professionals in England were on modest monies, earning sums only a little ahead of the average unskilled worker. Basically he was paid a pittance, considering he was one of England’s best-known international sportsmen.
Murray wasn’t one to complain but he admitted to Sandford that even while he was playing in front of 30,000 and more, knowledge that he had to pay the latest gas bill was always in the back of his mind.
He toured Australia for a second time in 1965-66 as a permanent understudy to Jim Parks, who was a superior batsman but a far inferior ‘keeper.
In the Melbourne Test, Parks missed a simple off-side stumping against Peter Burge from the leg-spin of Bob Barber. ‘It almost certainly cost England the match and with it the Ashes,’ said the often-acerbic EM Wellings who went onto say: ‘The blame should rest with the selectors who would not appreciate that bowlers deserve the best possible wicket-keeper irrespective of any other consideration.’
Murray again proved to be the consummate touring ambassador. During an extended rain delay in an up-country game at Euroa, Murray stood beaming while signing dozens of autographs for the grateful kids. Few others bothered, but for Murray it was always a pleasure to encourage the next generations of cricket lovers.
He was one of nature’s great gentlemen and Sandford, an award-winning author and researcher, has done him proud.
And pleasingly, his publishers Pitch have discarded production shortcuts and poor quality paper to produce a fine set of memories. – KP