He Wore The Wyvern: Carl Gazzard

Carl Matthew Gazzard was born on 15th April 1982 in Penzance, Cornwall. He was a right-handed batsman and wicket-keeper who made his debut for his native Cornwall in 1998 and established himself as the Duchy’s regular gloveman in 1998 and 1999.

He wore the Wyvern for over a decade from 1998 to 2009, making his debut for Somerset 2nd XI in 1998, his first-class debut in 2002 and his Championship debut in 2003.

He became the regular keeper late in 2005 after the retirement of Robert Turner and was in the 2005 Twenty20 winning side as Somerset beat Lancashire at the Brit Oval. In that match he took two catches and a run out. In the semi-final against Leicestershire Carl impressed with his excellent glove work making two key stumping’s and a run out. He struck 16 off the final over receiving the man of the match award for his efforts.

Carl started playing the game early with his obvious talent shining out from the off. “My earliest memory is when I was nine and I went to the Cornish cricket trials, if you like, with my brother who was two years older than me. Somehow I managed to get into the U11s team he was playing in as a batter. Then in one game they didn’t have a wicketkeeper so I did it and never stopped.”

Local family contacts gave Carl a chance to play a really good standard of men’s cricket at a delicate age when he joined St Buryan. “This is a village side about seven miles from Penzance and my dad was a teacher there, so he knew people in the village. So I was invited to play and at thirteen was playing in their first team in the Premier League in Cornwall.”

It proved a great learning curve for Carl, and a rivalry was formed very early that would continue through his career. “Some of my early memories were playing against Charlie Shreck, who is still going now for Leicestershire. He was playing for Truro and is 3-4 years older than me and is a serious first-class cricketer.

“The standard was really very good but I was only there briefly. I joined Buryan at 13, played for Truro for one year and I was here (in Somerset) at 16. It all came about very quickly.

“But I talk to a lot of people from around here and they went to Taunton School, Kings College, Millfield, and I say they miss out on development quite drastically. Playing against Charlie Shreck – well he was trying to hit me on the head when I was 14 years old. The guys at Kings & Taunton aren’t exposed to that until they are 17-18. So I think they miss out as they are too sheltered if you like.

“And playing in a team of men makes a difference. They tell you is as it is, take the mick and let you know how it is. So I had a great cricket grounding.”

Carl ultimately represented England at U13, U14, U15 and U19 levels and was starting to attract attention and it wasn’t long before Somerset were watching the young man. “It all starts when you are playing in the West of England trials and for regional sides because all the training is at Taunton. So then you get involved with the Somerset boys and it is generally their (Somerset’s) coaches.

“I was invited into the third intake of the old school Academy so was invited to move up here and go to Huish College and train. The move wasn’t too bad because, being from Penzance, you are used to travelling all time. 150 miles isn’t that far so I would still go home and play club cricket.”

Carl’s 2nd XI debut was memorable and proved a big step up in his development. “I remember it was here (at Taunton) against Kent and Jason Kerr was playing, Keith Parsons was playing and Lathers, so there were some serious players. But it was a shock,” he says. “Being from Cornwall the wickets were quick but nowhere near as quick as they are here. And then the next game was at Essex. Andre van Troost was playing and that was a shock to the system! And hands! So it was a task keeping to him.

“And another shock was the ball moves around more. They were higher skill bowlers and the ball passes the bat and moves late causing all kinds of problems. I was used to catching every ball and suddenly I was fumbling a few. Jason Kerr would take the mick out of me, and that wasn’t something I had experienced. But it was OK – I didn’t like it much – but I think it was to see if you had something about you”.

His second game, when he was just 15 years old, was also memorable thanks to the Flying Dutchman van Troost, also known as Rooster as he explains. “We were at Essex and Rooster was bowling the next over so he was at fine leg. At the end of the over we all trotted down the other end and looked around but Rooster wasn’t there! He had jumped over the advertising hoardings to chase a spectator who had told him he was useless. Rooster only went across to sign an autograph!”

One particular player would take time to help Carl and his young team-mates. “Graham Rose was a great help to us. He was out of the side and playing for the seconds and you won’t find a bad word said about him from myself, Wes, Tregs and Neil Edwards. He showed us what it took but also what it meant to be a professional. You effectively turn up here as a club cricketer and you learn to be a professional and he showed us.”

And the full Somerset debut came in 2002 against the touring West Indians with Chris Gayle playing for the opposition. “I remember he (Gayle) hit Matt Bulbeck into the river in the first over of a four-day game, it may even have been the first ball, I can’t remember. That was strange. I think I did quite nicely and it was good experience but I don’t remember too much about it.” In a remarkable game that ultimately ended up tied with 1,272 runs scored in total. Carl took three catches and a stumping and scored 24 & 7 in his two knocks. A healthy start for him against opposition that included Sulieman Benn, Dwayne Bravo and Gareth Breese.

Rob Turner was Somerset’s established keeper and proving to be hard to dislodge, but Carl kept plugging away and went to Australia in the winter after the 2002 season and learnt some new disciplines from the Aussie’s which he employed when he made his one day debut for Somerset in 2003. There was some surprise when Carl opened the batting against Notts, yet he hit an impressive 58 on his National League debut with old foe Charlie Shreck in the opposition ranks. “In many ways this reflected how the one day game was changing. I had a really good six months in Australia and worked hard on my game and developed. They played differently over there than we did at the time – they went at the opposition from the first ball which was exciting and that’s what I worked on. And I brought that back with me at a time when our one day cricket was dipping away after 2001. I was one of the few looking to do what I was doing.”

Carl felt that his day was soon as he was offering Somerset something new that few – if any – keepers had done previously. And being so much younger he had time on his side.

By 2004 Carl was Somerset’s preferred one day keeper and his batting was improving all the time and his first Somerset century was an amazing 157 against Derbyshire off 136 balls with 14 fours and two sixes. What made this more impressive was his team had been unceremoniously thrashed by Yorkshire in the previous game. “That was one of those days when it all just came together. It was a nice, sunny day and everything goes your way. You train to play a certain way and it works. The upside of playing so much cricket is you have a defeat like Yorkshire and next day you are back on the field and can put things right. It was a brilliant day.”

But, strangely, this would be Carl’s only century for Somerset.

2005 would prove to be pivotal for Carl and his Somerset team-mates. He became the number one keeper in the championship after Turner was released and there was, of course, that golden day at The Oval when Graeme Smith led the cider county to the Twenty20 Trophy, with Carl contributing. This remains his career highlight. “It was obviously a brilliant day. We trained to play a certain way and were so prepared for that competition that winning was not a surprise to us. It may have been for others?

“I thought the captain’s decision to let Otis Gibson bowl the final over (in the semi-final) was terrible because we were struggling with the pace off the ball with Darren Maddy bowling and we couldn’t get after him. He had one left, so he should have bowled it I think. But we got 16 off the last over when we were scoring at 6-7 off the previous 19 overs so that says it all.”

Somerset won that game by 4 runs, further highlighting Carl’s efforts, before Smith’s undefeated 64 handed his team the trophy with 7 wickets and nearly two overs left in a reduced game.

Somerset v Lancashire scorecard

In the County Championship Somerset finished second bottom so all was not rosy in the garden. But for Carl, the world appeared to be most definitely his oyster. So much so, that another county made an approach for his services. But one departure had a major effect on him, the man Carl names as having the biggest impact on his career. “Mark Garaway was coach and he went off to England. He was a wicketkeeper and we trained together every day but he left and Andy Hurry came in. So I lost (a) my coach, and (b) someone I worked with every day. So I didn’t really have anyone to turn to then. I was still a young man.

“And one regret I have now is that Warwickshire approached me in late 2005 and, looking back, I wish I had gone. Somerset wouldn’t have let me go and I didn’t want to at the time but they (Warwickshire) signed Tim Ambrose instead and he was playing for England within two years so there would have been an opportunity for me there. But I let it go straight away – it’s only when I reflect back now.”

By 2006 Somerset were struggling and ultimately finished bottom of the Championship, despite the efforts of new signing Cameron White and the returning Peter Trego. Carl struggled for runs in a struggling side. “From a personal point of view it was tough as Tregs and I were batting 7 and 8 but, in the first five games I think, we would have our pads on and be in during the first session of every game. Ideally you want to be 250 for 5 when you go in and not 50 for 5 which was the case sometimes.

“It was a poor start and you get dragged down and you wonder why you are not having success.”

One player who would have a major impact on Carl was developing quite quickly having joined Somerset from Millfield School, a player who Kent looked set to sign initially. So when was Carl aware of the threat of the emerging talent of Craig Kieswetter? “I guess preseason in 2007? I saw his ability but didn’t see him as a threat at that time as I didn’t think he would keep wicket, I thought he would bat only and I would still keep.

“Strangely it was a bit like how I got in (the side) by offering something Rob Turner didn’t as Kiessy was scoring loads of runs straight away. So who do you drop, the man scoring runs? Of course not.”

Kieswetter’s form meant games were now few and far between for Carl but there were still some highlights, and Somerset fans would be grateful to him for preserving the club’s status in Division One of the Pro 40 League after beating Lancashire. Somerset seemed to be facing a losing cause in their quest for survival needing 23 off the last three overs. However, Carl, who would not have been playing had Kieswetter been fit, took the lead and reduced the deficit to 8 off the last over to be bowled by Gary Keedy and saw his side home. “That was great. I played like I had a point to prove and didn’t have anything to lose.”

Despite losing his place Carl once again shunned another county’s advances when Northants came knocking at the start of 2007. “They were in a similar position to Somerset, struggling at the bottom of the Championship and I just didn’t fancy joining a similar proposition if you like.

“I knew I was rated by Justin Langer who understood that I could read the game, which was one of my strength’s. But I also knew he really rated Kiessy too. But I still didn’t see him (Kieswetter) as a threat so I turned that down.”

Despite the competition Carl was good mates with Kiessy, who he admired at close range. “He was a crazy talent, he hit the ball so crisply. He was a confident young kid and he knew where he was and I knew where I was and we respected the situation. We got on really well – we trained together, we helped each other.”

Carl is adamant when asked to name the best player he played alongside: “For me it was (Andrew) Caddick who was the finest. Certainly to keep wicket to. He was too good for everyone else and you don’t think that about too many people. I suppose the two best players were Tres and Graeme Smith but Caddy was in a league of his own. He was like a robot really – you could throw him the ball and he almost mechanically did something with every ball. And when you got to know him you could sense what was coming next even if the batsman didn’t. You knew that big whopping inswinger was on the way. It was a privilege getting to understand the man.”

In 2009 Carl was playing in the seconds and playing well. He was again approached by Northants but, again, declined their advances. On 11th August he hit 64 not out in a one day game against Sussex 2nd’s and 81 not out against the same opposition in a game starting the next day. After those games aged just 27 years young he decided to retire from the game to pursue new opportunities in finance. How big a decision was this? “It was easy being honest with you”, he says. “By then it was three years on from when I was doing really well so I was effectively on a downward slide and I knew my opportunities would be limited. And, just as Kieswetter came in, so did Buttler.

“I didn’t have the willingness to go to Northants because, at 27, you know where you are and that you have to do something so special to hit the heights of playing for England or whatever. And I didn’t see the value of trundling along just for the sake of being a cricketer a while longer. So it was an easy decision.”

Brian Rose said at that time to Cornwall Live: “Carl has been very unlucky because of the emergence of Craig Kieswetter as a very obvious talent. He was always going to struggle because of him. We wish him every success for the future.”

But things may have been different if Carl’s advice had been heeded in 2009 before he departed Somerset. He had captained the 2nd XI and found some worth in actively helping the Academy youngsters appreciate the game. He made a proposal to Brian Rose that, in hindsight was quite visionary. ”I had loads of conversations with Brian Rose and I knew where my value was. My skill in the 2nds was helping the younger players develop their games. Being their captain and talking to them about their field placings, when to bowl and how to bowl, how to do things.

“So I was talking to Brian about incorporating this (role) into the club structure. I was captain and Jason Kerr was coach, but he was also looking after the Academy so I proposed that I could be involved to free up Jason for a few days each week.

“I was also aware that I was still only 27 and if Kieswetter was called up for England and Buttler was injured then I could step in at any time. I don’t know if Brian was restricted by budgets or simply wanted to do things his own way but it didn’t happen.”

And, of course, every Somerset fan’s worst nightmares were realised when Kiessy was forced to prematurely retire in 2014 in the season following Jos’s decision to seek pastures new at Lancashire. Did Carl consider getting the gloves out again? “No”, he says defiantly. “I was too long out of the game by then. But if I was on the staff still I would have been training and playing every day and could have stepped in.

“By the time I retired I was still developing. Look at Rob Turner, he had his best years in his thirties and I believe I was heading that way.”

But Carl does not look back in anger and is justifiably proud of his career with some great memories. “With everything Somerset had been through then I had seen bitter people, and they were bitter. I can’t be doing with that. I had such a good time. Joining Somerset was the best thing I ever did.

“The T20 win was obviously the highlight”, he says, “but after that the win against Australia here was also pretty special. They were world champions at the time so standing behind Hayden, Damien Martyn, Ponting – awesome.”

Sadly Carl decided to walk away from the game totally and has only played twice in eight years since leaving Somerset, playing in a charity game and a corporate game last summer.

Carl is now settled in Taunton, working for the County Ground’s sponsors Cooper Associates and is married with three children. He is seen regularly at the CACG and this means he keeps in touch with a few old mates. “Tregs was my best mate so I make a point of catching up with him when I can. I see Caddy when he walks past and of course see Keith in the club shop. But most of them from my days have moved away.”

He has fond memories of the Somerset supporters who he feels were the most passionate around. “I am obviously going to be biased but, being West Country people, I felt Somerset fans had much more passion.

“Maybe that stems from having no major football teams around so when there is something like this at Somerset they do follow in numbers and some travel for hours to get here. Such passion and loyalty.

“I got on well with the fans. I came from a place where you walked around the boundary and talked to everyone and that gained you a lot of respect. And Cornish cricket had a big following. I don’t see that happening now – I know times change – but that’s how I was brought up.”