Take Five: “They called him Kieswetter….!”

Looking at five defining moments that made Somerset’s 2015 what it was! We start with the premature retirement of Craig Kieswetter.

Monday 15th September 2014 had been a fairly decent one for Somerset. This was the first day of the final home game of that season against Middlesex and it closed with the home team on 266 for 5, looking well set to make a score big enough to put pressure on their visitors.

As the last few overs were being played out the customary question was being asked in the press box regarding who the watching media representatives wanted to speak to in the end of day press conference. The answer from those present was emphatic. Craig Kieswetter.

Kies 1The young South African born England international was making his comeback in first class Cricket following a horrendous eye injury sustained in Northampton that July, when a rising delivery from left-arm fast bowler David Willey had managed to sneak through Kieswetter’s grille on his helmet and smash into his face. This injury looked set to end the wicket keeper’s season so his comeback with two games to go was a pleasant bonus to Somerset supporters. And he, of course, didn’t let the club’s fans down.

The player lovingly known in the club’s changing room as ‘Bagel’ scored 69 runs in typical belligerent fashion in just 80 deliveries, including 10 fours and 1 six. It was a joy to watch. What was all the more impressive was not just the stroke play but the bravery shown by the player as Middlesex’s efficient and tidy bowling attack tested Kiessy’s resolve with some hostile short pitched stuff. This was all negotiated with supreme confidence. He eventually succumbed to a straight one, bowled by Ollie Raynor, but it had been a good day for the 26 year-old personally.

Kieswetter quietly entered the post-match press conference, sat himself down and immediately dedicated the innings to Somerset’s supporters saying it was good to give “something back” to the fans who had supported him during the dark times of the injury, one that he feared at the time may end his career totally. He admitted that he could appear distant at times but it was a very humble young man who faced the small gathering of press people on that evening, thanking his team-mates and fans.

“Sometimes as players, we can be a bit aloof towards supporters. But the care I had showed what a special club this is to be around. It is a special thing for a player to feel that sense of belonging.

“I might be walking down the street or out for dinner and people I didn’t know would come up and ask how I was. Even the reception when I walked out to bat today gave me goose-bumps. It’s important I return the favour. I was delighted to give something back today.”

Kies 3It was a moving few moments. Here was Craig Kieswetter back playing for the county he loves – and who love him in return – talking maturely above his years about Somerset and the future. Those in the press box said it quietly: Craig Kieswetter was back!

What we didn’t know as we all headed home after that day’s play on Monday 15th September 2014 was that this would be the final time we would see Craig Kieswetter bat for Somerset at Taunton.

Craig Kieswetter had come to England in 2006 to complete his education at Millfield School in Street where he studied for a year and gained his A Level qualifications. He was spotted by former Somerset fast bowler Mark Davis, who recommended him to the cricket management at Taunton, but only after Kent looked set to sign the player and they had first option on Kiessy. But they baulked and Somerset stepped in quickly.

Craig qualified to play county cricket as his mother is Scottish and he impressed for the 2nd XI immediately, but his opportunities at Taunton looked limited with Carl Gazzard the main wicket keeper and looking set for a long career for Somerset. Gazzard was famously man of the match when the cider county beat Leicestershire in the T20 semi-final on their way to winning the trophy.

But it was a sign of Kiessy’s determination that he was going to take the position and make it his. And he did.

Kieswetter did not waste any time making his mark in his adopted county side becoming a fans favourite in the process. His first season coincided with Justin Langer coming in as captain as Somerset, buoyed also by the permanent return of Marcus Trescothick, won Division 2 of the County Championship at a canter. This started a period where Somerset would be in the running for a number of trophies with Kiessy central to those efforts.

How ironic that his in first appearance for Somerset on 22nd April 2007 Kiessy would score 69 runs undefeated – batting at number 8 against Glamorgan – hitting 10 fours and 1 six – exact statistics to the final appearance at the County Ground in 2014.

Bagel was box office in a team of stars and showmen. A wicketkeeper capable of brilliance and a destructive batsman. There were few words more welcome to the Somerset supporters on the club tanoy than “the incoming batsman is Craig Kieswetter!” If you were busy reading a paper you put it down or if you were queuing for food or drinks you rushed back to your seat because, invariably, something was about to happen. He didn’t pull something out of the bag every time – of course he didn’t – but when he did it was inevitably spectacular.

Kiessy injury
The infamous tweet posted by Kiessy himself

He enjoyed a battle and relished situations when the chips appeared down, such was his determination.

And it would need determination for him to fulfil his international ambitions. Although he had represented South Africa under-19s in the World Cup in Sri Lanka, he wanted to play for England, and this he achieved just two weeks after qualifying. He famously rejected an approach from Proteas skipper and former Somerset man Graeme Smith in doing so. And, ask anyone who played under Smith in his short term as captain at Taunton and they will tell you one thing, Smith can be very persuasive. But the young man’s mind was set and England it was.

The highlight of his 71 games for England would undoubtedly be the T20 World Cup win in 2010 where he scored 60 not out against the Australians winning the man of the match award to boot. This is England’s only major trophy victory to date.

But his time would be spent in and out of the England side and eventually his place in the national team was taken by then Somerset team-mate Jos Buttler who he battled with to retain the gloves in the county side too.

Rejected by England, and hurt by this, he retained other ambitions and controversially made himself available for the IPL soon after Jos left Somerset but was not recruited in the auction process. He had a fairly barren time in Australia’s Big Bash in 2014 playing for the Brisbane Heat and had a similar luke warm time back in South Africa playing for the Warriors in the Ram Slam T 20 in early 2015. Soon after he announced he would not be playing for Somerset in 2015 due to vision issues. He retired from professional cricket in June 2015, aged just 27.

Bagel says an emotional farewell to the Taunton crowd. Photo by Alexander Davidson
Bagel says an emotional farewell to the Taunton crowd. Photo by Alexander Davidson

When news of his premature retirement became official via a club press release one Friday morning it wasn’t a surprise to those of us relatively close to the club but still a huge disappointment. It had been an ill kept secret for a few months that Kiessy was reviewing his cricket career in light of the ongoing injuries. In a season of disappointments his retirement stands out and is a defining moment for the county as players of his calibre do not come along often.

In what was to be his last season playing for Somerset he had been the star in the T20 campaign before injury, hitting 459 runs in 10 innings. His loss to the side contributed to a decline in performances and created a hole that Somerset were always going to struggle to fill and, being honest, haven’t yet at the time of writing this article.

 Just before the T20 Blast game against Hampshire at Taunton on Friday 5th June the fans who attended were treated to the opportunity to say goodbye to Kiessy, who was paraded in front of a full house on a glorious Taunton evening. It was an emotional and very fitting tribute to a fine player from an adoring crowd highlighting his popularity.

He did not want to be any ‘normal’ county player, simply putting in half decent performances and picking up a wage.

“In the end I just thought, there are too many mediocre players in county cricket – and good luck to them – but I don’t want to be another one.”

This would have been a decision made after much heart wrenching and one only the player could make. And proof that the boy had become a man, even at the still tender age of 27. I just wonder if success in any of the international T20 tournaments would have satisfied an insatiable appetite to perform at the highest level and helped extend his cricket career. Only Kiessy knows the answer to that.

For eight short years Craig Kieswetter was one of ours. He may not have been born of Somerset stock within a TA or BS postcode but he schooled in the county. He was, to coin a phrase, as Somerset as scrumpy and loved by the cider army. His time as a cricketer was criminally short but when his star shone, it was bright enough.

~SCS banner