He Wore The Wyvern: Julian Wyatt

Julian George Wyatt was born on June 19, 1963, at Paulton, Somerset. He wore the Wyvern in 69 first-class and 43 List A matches for Somerset from 1983 to 1989 and shared a changing room with some of the best players to ever represent the cider county, and certainly some of the most colourful and iconic. His time at Taunton allowed him to witness first-hand the final few seasons of the so-called ‘Glory Years’, the civil war that divided the county in 1986, and start of a new era in the late 1980s.  

He made his first-class debut in a mid-season match against the New Zealanders in 1983 and returned as an opener in the last five games of that season scoring three fifties with a highest score of 82* against Warwickshire at Taunton. In all he scored 2,789 first-class runs and was good enough to hit three centuries for the county.  

A shy farmer’s son, Julian was educated at Farrington Gurney Primary School then Wells Cathedral School and was a keen sportsman, capable in several sports, but football was his early passion. As a 13-year-old he had a trial in an under-18 game with a league club and caught the eye of their manager, who was a former England international and member of the 1966 World Cup winning squad.

“I went to Hereford United and Terry Paine was their manager. I think they were second division at the time and I recall Richard Ollis was in goal. I had a good game and Terry came in after the game and praised the number 10 and asked who it was, but I was too shy to say anything. And he kept asking and I still didn’t speak up and he said, ‘whoever you are you were magnificent’. But I went to a public school and we never played football so never found out how good I was.”

Initially Julian disliked cricket and played rugby instead, but at the age of 12 his father sent him to a winter school with Temple Cloud CC against his wishes, but in those days you did as father told you. But, having enjoyed this experience, Julian joined the club. In his debut for the under-13s he scored in the 40s but admits with honesty that he wasn’t an outstanding young player. But he had developed a love for the game and practiced hard, sometimes to the annoyance of his parents.

“I lived on a farm so we had loads of space and I was always hitting a golf ball with a stick, or hitting tennis balls against the wall, and I smashed so many windows it was ridiculous. But I loved it and just did it hour after hour.

“And then we had a new barn built which I thought was brilliant, as this was a new shed for me to practice. But on the first day I hit the ball so hard that it shattered the wall and I made a big hole.”

But progress on the cricket field was gradual. Julian recalls considering Adrian Dunning and Ian Bussey to be better prospects than himself and he didn’t get into any county age groups until aged 16 and games played were largely uneventful for him. And, after leaving school, his availability to play was restricted by work commitments and he didn’t get to play a full programme until he was 19 after he made the decision to take unpaid leave to be available for every game, so determined was he to see how far he could go in the sport.

“I found out later that teachers at school told my parents that they had to get this stupid idea out of my head that I was going to be a cricketer.

“But I played every game and things changed when we played at Canford School against Dorset and one of the openers’ car broke down and Ken Palmer invited me to open, so I did and got 123. And then I became an opener and I got picked later in the year for the two’s in some Minor Counties games and batted with ‘Dasher Denning’.

“Batting with Dasher was brilliant because, this was a guy you looked up to anyway, but he was always talking to you in the middle of the wicket and cajoling you and building you up. He opened my eyes, he was magnificent.”

This experience prompted Julian to make the decision to give up work totally to pursue his dream of playing cricket – again against the wishes of mum and dad, friends, everyone! He asked Somerset coach Peter Robinson for permission to train at Taunton and play as many games as possible. And, although he found runs hard to come by at the start, gained some form and was offered a contract.

Now an official member of the playing staff, Julian entered a changing room full of characters including Ian Botham, who Julian met after the great all-rounder had returned to Taunton after England duty: “Vic Marks introduced me to Beefy after nets one day. He said, ‘this is Jules – a good little player who has just hit me for six.’ Beefy said, ‘everybody hits you for six, Vic.’

“But Botham was always very good with me although I never got that close to him. There were those that he trusted more than others, maybe because he was at the stage where he was having an indifferent press, but he was a great player and he wanted people to prove themselves, and not just because you got runs for the under-19s.”

1984 started well for Julian, who was now cementing his place in the side. In the first game against Yorkshire he scored 87 in an opening stand of 246 with Peter Roebuck, the first of three 50s that season. But it was an innings that Julian feels could, should and would have generated more runs but for the intervention of his batting partner: “I got 87 in 93 overs – so less than one run an over – but this should have been 130 or more as it was a ridiculously slow outfield. Roebuck – not renowned for being a cavalier batsman – came down the wicket and said, ‘it’s about time you got on with it’, and walked away. I was only 20, and it was only my sixth game, so next over I had a slog and was out LBW for 87.

“I often wonder why Robey did that, but he was a very clever man and never did anything without thinking about it first. We never had that great a relationship and it steadily deteriorated over the years.

“I don’t think Both wouldn’t have done that. Viv wouldn’t have done that. They would have told me to grind it out get a first hundred under your belt.”

A few days later he did claim that first century when he hit Oxford University for 103, with Somerset declaring on 365 for 1. He would ultimately score 666 runs that season with an obvious highlight being against the touring West Indians when he stood tall to their fearsome pace attack – Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh included – and scored 45 and 69, which was about 55% of his team’s total runs.

He started 1985 well, once again taking a ton off of Oxford University (145) and would go on to total 816 runs (despite missing five games with a broken thumb) including another century against Hampshire, where Julian batted all day to save a game, and this offers a career highlight to match the Windies match: “It derailed Hampshire’s charge for the championship and they would have gone top if they had won. We didn’t have Viv, Both or Joel and had been shot away first innings while they scored 340-odd for 2. It felt pretty good batting all day particularly against an attack spearheaded by Malcolm Marshall.”

Viv Richards returned to the Somerset fold in this season and Julian got to see up close the brilliance of a man labelled by some as the best ever: “We were at Derby in 1985 and I had made a good start to the season and, on a greenish pitch, we had lost a couple of early wickets and Viv and myself put on a 185-run partnership. Michael Holding was bowling, but he wasn’t running in quite like he used to but was still rather nippy.

“He bowled this slower ball at me which I picked early and smacked through mid-off for four. So he simply walked back to his mark – which was a shortened run-up – picked his marker and strode out twice the length and he absolutely flew in for about six overs It was an amazing experience because I am ducking, weaving and fending it off. But Viv – at the other end – is flicking it through mid-wicket and in front of square and it is then that you realise the huge gulf because I am playing well but I am nowhere near this guy.

“I batted with Martin Crowe, Jimmy Cook and Steve Waugh, and they were all great players, but the way Viv dissected the opposition was another level altogether.” 

However brilliant he was, Viv was a largely quiet and unassuming man but Julian does recall some poignant moments in the company of the Antiguan: “Viv had something about him where he didn’t have to say much, but if he said something positive the value was enormous.

“In 1984 I was dropped mid-season despite playing well, and it was hard to take for a 20-year-old and I lost some confidence, but Viv came back from touring and we were playing at Taunton. I was 12th man and sat alone in the old Colin Atkinson Pavilion when Viv came in.

“He said, ‘are you not playing?’, and I said ‘no’. So he said, ‘they must have a good side out there today then, man!’ And that was so good to hear from a guy of his standing.”

The team was captained by Ian Botham in 1985 and Julian recalls one tale which highlights the huge respect and influence the skipper had on some people: “We were batting against Essex at Taunton and I was in with Nigel Felton and we were putting together a partnership. It was drizzling constantly and we kept asking the umpires to go off but they were having none of it. Felts was out for 40-odd and was really annoyed.

“Roy Palmer was umpire – and Both knew there some umpires he could control – so when he walked out he pulled his sweater over his head and waved his bat like a giant windscreen wiper and Palmer just laughed and said, ‘yeah it’s far too wet’, and lead everyone in.

“That was the influence Both had.”

1986 would be a wretched one for Julian. Despite a decent 1985 season he wasn’t selected. He scored 40 against the Oxford students – nearly half of his total first-class haul for the season – and an unbeaten 48 opening against Middlesex in the John Player League where he broke his arm thereby keeping him out the side for a while. He learnt after the game that Roebuck was initially going to bat the returning batsman at 6 until Viv Richards intervened questioning the captain’s decision to bring in an opener and bat him in the middle. Obviously intimidated by the West Indian Roebuck relented and Julian was part of an opening stand of 110. And maybe this incident had wider implications as the season drew to a close?

This was, of course, the season when Somerset were thrust into the newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons after the club infamously dismissed Richards and Garner in a very public and, some would say, disrespectful way. This led to the so-called Battle of Shepton Mallet where members met to dictate the West Indians’ future aware that any majority vote to uphold the club’s decision to sack them would see Botham leave too. And this was ultimately the case.

“I still think the club got it wrong. They believed too much of what they were told. I believe – and it’s not personal – that Peter Roebuck loaded the guns. He’s a very clever man and convinced a lot of people that Viv and Both were bad for the young players at the club which I totally disagreed with.

“I don’t think Joel was as much the issue as the other two as his knees were playing up and he was at the end of his championship career. But he could have been given a one-day contract because, as a one-day bowler, he was brilliant.

“It was fuelled by 1984 and how good Martin (Crowe) was, and he was brilliant with the young players, and with Robey, as they were similar minds and technical. Had the 1984 Martin come back in 1987 it may have been justifiable but he was tired having played a lot of test cricket and was a totally different person, especially with young players. In many ways he was quite impatient and seemed frustrated.

“As I said before, Viv and Both believed you earned their respect. If Viv didn’t say ‘well played’ it wasn’t personal but the person (Roebuck) was – as I said – very clever in moving people’s minds in a certain direction.

“In 1985 things were happening which have never been reported but were building up to what happened at the end of 1986. I won’t say too much but I got phone calls at home from 3-4 players saying Both needed to be removed as captain – not by Roebuck, but fuelled by him. And I totally disagreed.”

The wind of change certainly blew through the County Ground during the winter of 86/87 with many new faces coming in, among them Neil Burns, Neil Mallender, Graham Rose and Adrian Jones. The season was initially promising but a defeat to Buckinghamshire in the NatWest Trophy didn’t exactly heal rifts: “It was going to be tough as you are creating a new team having lost the essence of the club – which has that West Country vibe – and brought in these players, two of whom were unproven. Rosey was brilliant, to be fair, and was as much Somerset as anyone.

“It was hard on the new players as it wasn’t their fault as they hadn’t created the problem.”

Picture courtesy of Julian Wyatt

One observation Jules has all these years later is that the removal of the ‘big three’ didn’t prompt a sudden upturn in youth development with several youngsters of great potential falling short when it came to being a county cricketer: “Gary Palmer didn’t develop from being an outstanding under-19 cricketer to when he was 23. He just didn’t have the cricket nouse to move on. Mark Davis was an outstanding young quickie but had issues with fitness. Ricky Bartlett had all the ability but, like me, struggled for consistency.

“Dick Harden was the exception as he was a strong character with the determination to score as many runs as possible. So Robey’s argument that young players’ progress was being stunted by Viv and Both doesn’t hold up as only Dick actually progressed from 1986 onwards.”

On a personal level Julian scored 250 first-class runs that season and 578 one year later. But he had stopped feeling that he was part of this Somerset team and didn’t feel that he fitted in at the club anymore. After another difficult season in 1989 his career came to an end when he was told his contract would not be renewed: “I was told it was a close call between myself and Jon Hardy, who I like and have no axe to grind with. But this was another example of the club losing their way. The Somerset boy being expendable at the expense of the one that the club brought in. But the club has to make decisions and I had to accept it.

“By ’87, ’88, ’89, I was really starting to become disillusioned with the game as there was such a bad environment and not a good one for young cricketers. We were just a really poor cricket club.”

But Julian took a route straight back into the game having been advised by Peter Robinson and Tony Corner to take his coaching badges in 1983. And he was encouraged into schools coaching and did this successfully for five years before being asked to manage the county age groups.

Keen to continue playing Julian started a four-year tenure with Devon in 1993 for whom he played 44 Minor Counties matches scoring 2,080 runs at 36.5. He was also used as a bowler and claimed 14 wickets with a best of 5 for 25. And this brought a reunion with a former Somerset captain, none other than Peter Roebuck. But the relationship was a little different with Julian older and wiser.

“It was a great place to go as everyone wanted you to do well and, even though I wasn’t a Devon lad, I was welcomed and there were some good guys there. This core group was exactly what Somerset hadn’t been in the last years I played there.

 “We had a very good side with players like Andy Pugh, Gareth Townsend, Nick Folland later on, Nick Gaylord, who was a fantastic opening batsman, Keith Donohue, who never made the professional game but I played against much worse bowlers in county cricket.

“Robey stayed on the outside. He turned up and captained the side but didn’t socialise with anyone.

“We played one game at Falmouth and Robey decided to give the team a bit of stick and I stood up and told him I disagreed; that this was the best Minor Counties side I had ever seen. And I played against a lot for Somerset seconds.

“In another game he had told Townsend to ‘get on with it’ as he really wanted to declare, but we had lost some quick wickets so I decided to hang around a bit. Someone told me later that he (Roebuck) was asked why he hadn’t told me to get on with it and he said he thought I might hit him. So he obviously saw a different me.”

A return to Somerset CCC came when the academy was formed in 1996 and he was asked to coach the 2nd XI in 1997. It was then that Jules decided to stop playing cricket for Devon.

Reflecting on his playing days Julian names Steve Waugh as the best player played with: “He wasn’t the best player but the best person. He had such a strong attitude and so determined and positive.”

And the best against was Malcolm Marshall and he recalls a tale form his first season: “He was quick, and he hit me on the shoulder a few times. But my best memory was Marshall was bowling to me and he told Mark Nicholas to crowd me and I expected a fearsome bouncer or something. But he tried to york me and he got it just wrong and I drove him just past his hand and the stumps for four. And he just stood there and glared at me swearing away. It was a good moment.”

Julian continues to be kept busy with his coaching and works at Blundell’s School, Wellington School and Plymouth College. He has started his own Perfect Moments Master Coaching:

https://www.perfectmomentsmastercoaching.com/

A keen commentator of the game he has ambitions to write books and manuals and recently offered additional research for Stephen Hill’s book Somerset Cricketers 1971-2000, the fourth in this particular series.

In addition to his stint coaching at SCCC, he has coached in New Zealand, combined with being CEO for Mid Canterbury Cricket Association and Director of Cricket at Exeter University

He continues to follow Somerset avidly and has strong opinions on some of the players at the club: “I think there are two Somerset players who England have been wrong about and that is Hildy and Tregs. Tregs should have played one-day cricket with his record, and Hildy never being given the opportunity is not quite a national disgrace but it’s dreadful!

“I like to think, with what he is doing, that Tom Abell will captain England one day, if he can get runs at the top of the order. And I think he can as he is a very good player and he could do well in test cricket.”

For a shy farmer’s boy, who wasn’t initially enamoured by cricket, he has done tremendously well to make a decent living out of the game and he has great stories to recite from his days playing alongside all those great players. And he has few regrets: “I should have scored more centuries – like when I got 90 against Derby – and should have stood up to Robey when I scored that 87. Looking back I needed to take him to one side to tell him in no uncertain terms he needed to change his ways. But I was a late starter and probably just grateful to be there.

“And I probably became too technical, and that can overpower you, which is why now as a coach I don’t encourage players to do the same as they think too much about what they are doing rather what the game needs.

“And maybe I should have held my hand up when Terry Paine asked who the number 10 was?”