Perseverance and patience are the watchwords for any spinner plying their trade Down Under on pitches greener than a raw capsicum. With minimal turn on offer, you roll your arm over for hours together, toil hard for years in University and club games and just wish you could break into a Sheffield Shield side.
While all that was the case for New Zealand-born Sydney-bred off-spinner William Somerville, he’s had to persevere for as long as 13 years to finally (potentially) call himself an International cricketer. Having played just 18 First-class fixtures, one List A match and four T20s in a domestic career that started with a First-class debut for Otago in 2005, Somerville finds himself travelling to the UAE as he prepares to don the whites for the Blackcaps after a knee injury ruled out Todd Astle.
William Somerville: A Journey To The BLACKCAPS Test Squad
For much of his career, he has been hopping around from Australia to New Zealand and vice versa. Having migrated to Sydney at a young age of nine, he returned to University of Otago to study, returned to Sydney University to complete his education, work as a Chartered Account and finally in a bid to push for higher cricketing honours returned to his country of birth this year to play for Auckland.
With conditions dictating terms heavily in favour of the fast bowlers, there never seemed to be a need to play more than two spinners and NSW / Sydney Sixers had Johan Botha, Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe bowling tidy spells under the sun. Somerville hit the high note in the 2016-17 Sheffield Shield season finishing off with 35 wickets, almost half of his domestic career tally.
With Lyon and O’Keefe away on the Indian test tour in February 2017, Somerville turned heads when he bowled 77.5 overs conceding just 181 runs picking nine wickets ( eight in the first innings ) in a first-class fixture against Queensland. He showed good discipline, resilience and variation with the ball on a wearing pitch pricing out quality batsmen to seize his opportunity.
While he prepares to launch his career on the International circuit beyond domestic fixtures, one of the major hurdles for him has been balancing life with cricket. Ahead of his Sheffield Shield debut, it was more than just cricket on his mind. Being a qualified Chartered Accountant, even on non-training days, he could be found crunching numbers for a firm.
Earlier this year he swapped the NSW jersey with Auckland as he asked to be released from his NSW contract, sensing a route to top-flight cricket. His first hit out with Auckland was in the UAE playing in the Abu Dhabi T20 tournament featuring Yorkshire (England’s Vitality Blast team) , Lahore Qalandars (Pakistan Super League team) and Hobart Hurricanes (Big Bash team). Returning home, he picked seven wickets in Auckland’s two Plunket Shield matches.
“I was incredibly emotional [on Thursday] when I heard about it ( his national call up ). My family’s made a lot of sacrifices to come here with my children. It’s been a long time coming and my dad always told me ‘your career is a lesson in persistence’. That’s something I’ve held onto, persisting and trying to get better,” Somerville told reporters in Auckland on Friday.
” It’s obviously excitement but it does mean a hell of a lot. It’s more than just a game of cricket. It’s been my life for five years and since I was a kid I’ve been trying to do this. To get there this late makes it a bit sweeter.”
While Todd Astle’s untimely injury ruling him out of the Tests means that New Zealand lose the opportunity to field a rare two-pronged leg spin attack, Somerville’s off breaks add variety to the left-arm spin of Ajaz Patel and the leg breaks of Ish Sodhi. On their previous tour to the UAE, off-spinner Mark Craig shone with his wicket-taking ability coupled with turn and bounce.
Somerville, as tall as 6 feet 4 inches , will look to extract bounce off the surface in testing conditions where his experience will be tested more than his skill set and exercise what he lives by – Cross your T’s and dot your I’s – in addition to what has got him to the top – patience and perseverance.