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He Wore The Wyvern: Keith Parsons

Keith Alan Parsons was born in Taunton on 2nd May 1973 and was raised and educated in the town. He first played for Somerset in 1992, when his twin brother Kevin was also on the staff, and wore the Wyvern with distinction and pride for 17 summers. A fans favourite throughout his career, he was often an unsung hero alongside the bigger names and will be best remembered for his man of the match performance in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy Final in 2001 against Leicestershire when Somerset won silverware for the first time in 18 years.

headKeith was cricket mad from a young age and found the perfect practice partner in his twin brother and they developed into good players alongside each other and Somerset were made aware of their talent.

“We went to Castle School in Taunton and then onto Richard Huish College. We played a bit in the under-19s then to the second team and then signed for Somerset the year after.

“We started playing aged 10 in the under 11s and then went through the age groups together, we both played for West of England and I played for England schools under 15s and we both played for England schools under 19s. Se we both did pretty well.”

Was having his twin around a help or hindrance during those early days?

“I think we were pretty good for each other, we egged each other on and we had the same group of friends. And we played a lot of sport together and there was always that competitive edge and obviously we practised lots together and it always helped.”

The twins played together for Somerset at all age levels but never in the 1st XI

“Not in the first team, no. We played a few seasons in the seconds together in the trophy winning side of 94 but after that Kev finished with the game unfortunately but he went on and did other things. In those days they made decisions when a player was 21 or 22 and he was obviously not in the frame.

“But he was probably the best league cricketer in the region for a fair few years and he was probably a better player a few years after than he was at Somerset. But he still played Minor Counties and a really standard of Cricket.”

Players come and go, and that is part of the game but did the release of his brother affect him more than other team-mates?

“It was tough, obviously tougher for Kev, I remember the day and I think they got rid of 9 or 10 players. So they were being trooped up to the Chief Executive’s office and coming back down with the bad news. A few of us were lucky enough to get another contract and Kev just moved on. He has been a massive support for me over the years and credit to him for getting on with it.”

Keith started to find his way in the 1st XI in an experienced Somerset side. Who would prove to be the biggest influence on him in his formative years as a cricket professional?

“Graham Rose was a good friend and looked after me. Neil Mallender as well when I was a youngster coming through, especially on away trips when he would take me on a golf course and talk me through a few things but there were a few senior players at that time to look up to. Chris Tavare was my first captain, there was (Andy) Hayhurst and (Peter) Bowler.  Andy was very good – obviously things aren’t too good for him at the moment – but he was a good captain and gave the youngsters a try and that is what was needed at that time.”

Keith has made several firm friends in the game, still socialising with a number of former team-mates even today. His first close friend at Somerset was also the player he describes as the best he played alongside?

“I came about in the Lathwell and Trescothick era. Jason Kerr was here too. There were quite a few good lads. As I said in ’94 there were a few who left. Lathers was one I got on very well with, we roomed together a lot and he was very influential. He is probably the best player I ever played with. Marcus and Caddy have done extremely well but Lathers was someone who could change a game. He had phenomenal ability to make the game look so easy and he was one that you made sure you were out watching while he was batting. I think he was the first to suffer from the fitness regime that came in about the time he finished and he just said he had enough. This was a huge shame for Somerset and for him obviously.”

A lot of Somerset supporters remember Mark Lathwell fondly and his rapid decline in form and premature exit from the game is still a talking point. His mentality is often queried but did Keith think he had issues?

“I think his record suggests he had it all mentally but I think his being picked for England just after he had been in good nick and his technique was questioned and he didn’t enjoy that experience. He was an introvert and liked the company of his friends. I think he was happy just to get back and play for Somerset.”

If Lathwell was the finest batsman he saw then Andrew Caddick takes the award for best bowler.

“I was lucky to field at slip when Caddy was bowling and you felt you would get a catch with every ball. He was fabulous. Taunton was never a bowlers wicket but great bowlers got something out of it and he was always bowling with pace and bounce and he always looked like getting wickets.”

Batting v Yorkshire in the 2002 final at Lords
Batting v Yorkshire in the 2002 final at Lords

In the mid-1990s Somerset were not a particularly glamorous side nor a winning side. But two people came that changed the culture of the club. The first was a Tasmanian who was very unlucky not to represent his country – Jamie Cox.

“Yes Coxy was good. I remember him turning up on the first time we had been away as we went to Cape Town in 1999 and he joined us there. He had this way with words and made us all feel wanted and welcome and was a phenomenal cricketer. He was the crux of that good spell we had back then. It was him and Dermot Reeve who brought a different way of thinking to the club. This was a key moment as those two together were a good partnership.”

Keith was establishing himself as a no nonsense finisher and someone who could enter a game that looked a lost cause and change it, not always with spectacular shots but simple and effective cricket. He credits these qualities he learned to one person:

“Dermot was brilliant. He was someone who made the very best of his ability as a cricketer and he coached that way as well. He was a little medium pacer who could bat a bit yet he played for England and he knew how to win and how to outplay the opposition. That is what coaching is about, trying to get players to outperform their ability. He was more of a practical coach than technical coach but he was brilliant for me and others as we started getting used to winning games. He taught us how to play smart cricket and that is what I took on board, to play sensible cricket to get us into a position to win games.

“Winning games can be about being brave enough to be there at the end and that is a characteristic I developed. I was quite happy to risk losing sometimes. There were a few players who were happy to have a go and get out but I liked to take responsibility to try and get us over the line with bat and ball.”

Under Reeve’s direction and Cox’s captaincy Somerset were forming a more than useful team and one that desperately wanted to win. This was helped by the camaraderie in the ranks with friendships developing that last until today.

“Yes we were really good mates and you want to perform for your mates. You want to do well and are pleased when they do well and when the team does well. We enjoyed each other’s company on and off the field and that is a healthy thing to have. And that is still the case as there are 5-6 of us that still meet up and go out for meals.

“But you look at Burnsy, Jamie Cox, Keith Dutch, Richard Johnson – Caddy and Marcus were in and out because of England at that stage – Blackie – you know, it was a good side. Burnsy was a good character. Always came in with a smile on his face. Back in those days we had a lot of fun, Blackie was good fun, Dutchy was an interesting character and very lively and we just all got on. Stef Jones was a good character to have around as was Pete Bowler.

“The 4-dayers could be a struggle, especially without Caddy as we found it difficult to bowl sides out. But we were a very good one day side, one of the best in the country actually.”

In 1999 Somerset managed to end their 16 year wait for a chance to perform in a big Lords final when they beat Surrey at Taunton in the semi-final with Keith bagging 4 for 43 to reduce the visitors to 195 all out after Cox’s 114 had taken the cider county to 315 for 8. This set up a west country showdown with Gloucestershire, who were arguably the best one day side in the country at that time. The Bristol side scored 230 and Somerset were reduced to 52 for 5 when Keith (42) shared a partnership of 82 with top scorer Rob Turner (51) but it was in vain:

“1999 was a good occasion just to be there because it had been so long since we had been there in a final. And we only fell short by about 30 runs. But Gloucestershire were a good side back then but we looked back and thought we could have won and should have won. When we went back in 2001 and 2002 we went back as a side with belief that we deserved to be there.”

Scorecard here:

In 2000 Keith scored the first of his six centuries against the touring West Indians who had a young Chris Gayle playing for them plus a future team-mate in Nixon McLean:

“It’s funny because I always did pretty well against the tourists. I scored hundreds against Australia A and Sri Lanka but the West Indies innings was pretty special because Lara was playing and a few of the other big guns.”

Scorecard here:

The county returned to Lords in 2001 to play a Leicestershire side that included Shahid Afidi. This time they came out on top and Keith’s 60 runs from 52 balls – including two sixes off the last two balls bowled by Phil de Freitas – turned the match for Somerset who had struggled until he stepped into the game. Again it was a partnership with Rob Turner.

“I always batted well with Rob, we tended to complement each other and were good mates as well. It looked a lost cause when we were 176 for 5 but managed to get it to 271.

“That was a funny one as going into the last over I was 48 not out having got 40 the year before and with two balls to go I thought if I got a single I would end up 49 not out and stuck at the other end. I remember walking down to Nod and said if I get it to long on we can get two and get to fifty. But something happened and the next two balls went out the ground.”

Is it possible to remember the day all these years later?

“Yes, and of course I have watched the highlights several times since, but it was a fantastic day personally and for the team as well. It’s an old cliché to say we play to win trophies but you genuinely do. You want to win for the crowd and your families and to see them afterwards as it was as important to them as it was for us.

“The Somerset crowd were brilliant – It was a genuine hairs-on-the-back of your neck time when Bowls and Banger went out to bat and we were sat on the balcony and it was an incredible roar. As it was when every Somerset player went out to bat.”

Scorecard here:

One year later Somerset made it three finals in four seasons and Keith once again produced with the bat, scoring 41 in Somerset’s 256 for 8 batting first. But it was a game Somerset lost.

“We actually came off at half-time and thought we had done well. The wicket wasn’t as good as the year before and we felt our score was better than the 270 against Leicester. As it turned out (Matthew) Elliot batted really well with the 120-odd he got and this made the difference to the game.

“We were really disappointed because we thought we had done enough to win. Back-to-back wins would have been really special but it wasn’t to be and we got done by a really good overseas player in his first or second game for them all year.”

battinIn 2002 Keith played in a game he refers to as his most satisfying:

“The quarter-final against Worcester was my favourite game when I got 120 in, I think, 2002. I bowled a floating half volley to Graham Hick who smashed it to Marcus at cover and smashed his thumb so we were already one down with our best player out of the game chasing a large score. I think I got out just before we won but that was probably my best innings.”

2005 was a memorable one for Somerset who managed more silverware, this time in the recently formed 20-over format. The club were joined by a new captain for this competition, the young South African Graham Smith who is the best captain Keith played under:

“I remember playing two major roles in two key games against Northants in both games. In the group game we won with two balls to go and we played them again in the quarter-final and won on the last ball. I was not out both times so that was good. Graham Smith came in and was key for us, and was very young at the time but had already captained South Africa.

“He was the most inspirational talker I ever heard. I recall asking him after one game how long he prepared in the mornings for his pep talks, as you hear so many captains giving team talks, but his were always motivational and he told me he just makes it up as he goes along. No thoughts or plans, he just spoke and that is how good a man he was that he could inspire like that. And he could play the game as well.”

“In the final, which was rain reduced, against Lancashire – who were a serious side at that time with Anderson, Flintoff, Chapple, Symonds, Cork, Stuart Law – he basically stood up and said at half-time that we were going to be alright and he was right! Little old Somerset did them over.”

Scorecard here:

Having played regularly in 2007, when Somerset won the 2nd Division in the Championship, Keith did not feature in 2008 and made the decision to retire midway through the season. Was this a hard one to make?

“I wasn’t playing in any of the formats so knew there was no point sticking around. You always look back and think you could have played a couple of years longer but I’d had 17 years and some good games so could never complain about anything. My time was up – no real regrets.

“We would all liked to have played international cricket and there was a time around 2001 playing in all those finals that could sometimes be good enough to get you on a tour. I’d liked to have had a go. But Look at Rob Turner – brilliant keeper – and Graham Rose who was the best allrounder in county cricket for a long old while yet he didn’t get a go so that’s how it goes sometimes. Playing down here and not at one of the top county’s maybe the reason?”

Keith is rightly proud of his career says his greatest achievement was having a career as long as had and is the owner of a very proud record being one of two players who scored 5,000 runs and took 100 wickets for Somerset. The other? He is the one and only Ian Terence Botham:

“Apparently that is correct in both forms of the game, that sounds quite good doesn’t it because he could play a bit. Tregs must be getting close I would have thought. Very flattering.”

Looking back who were the team-mates who could have achieved so much more?

“Blackie could have played a lot more international cricket if he had fitted in. At county level I would say John Francis who showed an awful lot of glimpses. When you saw him get runs you wondered why he couldn’t do that every time he bats because he was a very good player. He didn’t play as long as most people expected him to.”

After retirement Keith played for Cornwall and captained the Unicorns who gave some players a second chance after being released by county sides like Scott Elstone, Ned Eckersley, Michael Thornely and our own Wes Durston.

“It was a great opportunity for me to play another 48 list A games in four years. I really enjoyed the coaching and leadership side of it helping youngsters achieve their goals to play first class cricket, and some are still playing now and Wes is a classic example of what can be achieved.

The idea was really good in that you had lads from Minor Counties and University lads who had the chance to play in the big arena and some did really well.

“Second team cricket doesn’t appear to be that strong at the moment because staff’s are so small and you can do well in 2nd XI cricket but it doesn’t mean you will step up. It is tough and counties have to make decisions early on players who may develop a bit later but are released at 21. Yet some players don’t mature until after 30 and some don’t get the chance to do that.”

Captaining the Unicorns v Somerset at Wormsley
Captaining the Unicorns v Somerset at Wormsley

Keith was, and still is, incredibly popular with the clubs fans and being from Somerset can obviously help a player’s popularity. Keith had a special bond with the fans who obviously appreciated his honest approach to playing:

“I always got on well with the fans – no more than anyone else – but I think because I took time out to talk to them when I could. I obviously knew a lot of people from cricketing circles too having been from Taunton myself. I was always well received by the members and everyone at the club.

“I think I took pride in what I did because I didn’t want to let them down nor myself. The last thing I wanted to do was walk in the bar after a dismal loss when you can celebrate a victory instead. And if you have a bit of success then it is better still.”

Keith’s reflects fondly of playing for Somerset, but in particular at Taunton:

“It was something you looked forward to every day and look back on with fond memories. The big days at Taunton with the full crowd. I was looking at the new book the other day and those pictures of the crowd coming onto the field and us players getting mobbed and going home knowing you’ve had a good day. Really good memories.”

These days Keith divides his time coaching kids as well as working at Somerset County Sports in the County Ground.

“The coaching is a joint project with the Somerset Cricket Board with the sixth form academy at Richard Huish. I work at the shop most days and coach too. It’s all good. I’m surrounded by the game still and get to come to the County Ground and watch a bit of cricket!”