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County cricket’s greatest overseas players: Essex

by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

To mark the 50th anniversary of overseas players coming to county cricket in large numbers, we’ve asked an expert on each county to pick their top three for that club. Here’s Essex, as selected by Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-at-large Phil Walker.


West Indies (1966-77)
I was too young to see him play, but right from the off I knew the name. ‘Stingray’ they called him. Never knew when he’d get you. My old coach Wally Foster, a Romford boy, once bowled him a maiden in a club game. “Prahdest moment o’ my life,” he says. Everyone loved Keith. Ambling down the Leytonstone High Road in a Siberian greatcoat, collar upturned to shield the sideboards from the chill; tearing down the hill at Chelmsford, unable to keep anything back; swinging himself off his feet to clear the hut at deep mid-wicket.

He loved cricket. As in, really loved it. He landed up in Leytonstone in 1965, plucked from a club game in Barbados by Trevor Bailey – Keith had been down to bowl leg-breaks in the match, only flipping to pace when Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith were called up to the Test team. Debuted in 1966, playing against Cambridge University in his second first-class match. Capped in ’67. Genial executioner for a decade.

Essex, famously, were a loveable shambles back then. Things changed when the bo-legged brigadier Brian ‘Tonker’ Taylor got hold of them, bringing a little order to the slosh; and after Tonker, it was the gnomic Keith Fletcher, taking them on again. Boycey was the man during that time. The numbers stack up: 211 first-class matches, 662 wickets and 6,848 runs, averages for both kicking around the 23-mark. In the short stuff, he was an IPL cricketer two generations early, the first to the 100-wicket/1,000-run double in the 40-over competition, his 8-26 against Lancashire still a record for the format. Boyce was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1974 after a great run with the West Indies (21 Tests), and he helped win the World Cup in 1975, belting 34 and taking four wickets in the final.

But he never won a thing at Essex. It’s a little local travesty that when they began their trophy hunt in 1979 – 11 in 14 years – Keith was gone, his knees horribly knackered, the game, the one that he lived for, finished with him at 32. Back in Barbados, he worked a bit in the game’s margins, did a little coaching, and died on his 53rd birthday. To some extent he was the West Indies’ forgotten man. At Essex, he lives forever.


Australia (1988-95)
Even the cascading chaos of that mullet couldn’t disguise the beauty of his batsmanship. I once saw him upper-cut Devon Malcolm for six twice in an over. He never dropped a catch. He bowled bouncers or off-breaks and nothing in between. He was all the class.


Australia (1996-2001)
Punchy, cocky, snarling; couldn’t get in the Australia team, so became the best batsman in England. One of the Wisden five in 1998; the PCA’s Cricketer of the Year in ’99. He did his thing, took Donald apart in a Lord’s final, packed up and left.

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