Wednesday, February 1, 2023

NZC: Obituary – Bruce Alexander Grenfell Murray

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Test cricketer, educator, historian and author – Bruce Alexander Grenfell Murray QSO has died in Wellington aged 82, though his legacy is certain to endure, through the thousands of pupils he taught, through the many books he wrote and, not least, through his talented family members, including WHITE FERNS Amelia and Jess Kerr. 

An opening batter, the man affectionately known as “Bags” played a leading hand in New Zealand’s first Test win against Pakistan at Lahore in 1969, and then featured in a comical scene in the next Test at Dhaka as he helped his team avoid defeat and win its first-ever Test series.

 It was at Lahore, in the second Test of the series, where Murray played arguably his most influential hand, scoring 90 and featuring in a 101-run third-wicket partnership with Brian Hastings to help set up a commanding five-wicket win, only the seventh in New Zealand Test history. 

And it was at the then-East Pakistan city of Dhaka where New Zealand defied their hosts to draw the third Test and win the series, but only after an episode in which Murray managed to take a catch with one hand, while in the other holding a banana, reportedly thrown at him as he fielded on the third-man boundary. 

Unfortunately for Murray but not for Pakistan batsman Asif Iqbal, the delivery was deemed a dead-ball, as Murray was running in from third-man at the time of the delivery and had therefore changed his fielding position after the bowler had started his run-up. 

That he took the catch, on the run and one-handed, however, was no great surprise – Murray was an excellent slips fieldsman and took 23 catches in the 1967-68 season, a New Zealand record that has not yet been equalled, let alone beaten.

Although he has been described as a resolute opening batter, very much invested in the somewhat cliched duties of occupying the crease and taking the shine off the ball, those who knew him recall a player who could attack as well as he could defend.

NZC statistician Francis Payne notes that, against the Australians in 1969-70, and on a difficult pitch in the second unofficial Test at Lancaster Park, Murray scored a century, taking only 37 minutes over his second fifty. He so dominated the batting that, when dismissed for 110, New Zealand’s score was only 144 for four.

Murray played 13 Tests between 1968 and 1971, averaging 23.92, with a highest score of 90, as well as posting four other half-centuries, including 54 on debut against India at Dunedin. 

Having made his first-class debut for Wellington as an 18-year-old in 1958-59, he continued on to play 64 matches for his Major Association, scoring 3753 runs at 35.07, including three centuries. In all, he played 102 first-class games, scoring 6257 runs at 35.55. 

Payne also points out that Murray was more than just a part-time leg-spinner. He actually topped the entire Plunket Shield bowling averages in 1965-66 with 11 wickets at 11.18 – which goes some way to explaining grand-daughter Amelia’s leg-spinning expertise from such a young age.  

Murray was a scholar and a gentleman. He completed his Masters thesis on the geography of Tawa, authored and co-authored many books on the history, geography and families of the region, and was a popular and highly respected school principal in the Wellington province between 1981 and 2002.

As reported by cricket writer Lynn McConnell in 2001, he told guests at Wellington’s 125th Jubilee Celebrations that he would always be grateful for the opportunities provided to him by cricket.

“My first flight on a plane, a DC3 to New Plymouth, my first stay in a hotel, my first visit to Dunedin and Invercargill,” he recalled.

“I met my first politician, Jack Marshall, who was mad on cricket, and my first Governor General, Lord Cobham, who was also mad on cricket.

“These were all extras that were helpful, and an education to a young man whose family were of, as they used to describe it, ‘limited means’.”

Murray is survived by wife Shona, four children and 11 grandchildren.

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