Retiring from the game at the end of the recent 2022/23 summer, Will Somerville crafted a career like none other, a circuitous loop that took him from early days in Otago (for whom he made his first-class debut in 2004/05); to Australia where he represented New South Wales and the Sydney Sixers; and finally back to Auckland and on to represent the BLACKCAPS.
Tall right-armed off-spinner Somerville was well seasoned by the time he was called up for the first of his six Test match appearances, in late 2018 at the tender age of 34.
He’d been called in out of left field for injured leg-spinner Todd Astle. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It was a match against Pakistan played in the United Arab Emirate, and Somerville starred with match figures of 7/127 in a 123-run win to seal the Series.
It was the same Series in which left-armer Ajaz Patel had debuted, and in turning conditions together they helped to achieve the BLACKCAPS’ first away Test series win against Pakistan in 49 years.
Born in Wellington, Somerville’s family moved to Australia when he was a nine-year-old boy. It was studies at the University of Otago that brought him back across the Tasman for his Uni years, and although his concurrent appearances for the Otago Volts were infrequent, he was talent-spotted and invited to play for the NZC Academy team in his second summer.
Somerville played just four Plunket Shield matches all up for Otago before returning to Australia to work as a chartered accountant.
After some time, he would reignite his first-class cricket career - making his NSW first-class debut in the Sheffield Shield in October 2014, almost six years after his last game for the Otago Volts.
He would make his white-ball debuts in both formats across the ditch, playing a (wicketless) solitary List A one-dayer for NSW, and seven T20s for the Sydney Sixers.
With such an intermittent career, no one could have guessed what lay around the corner when he migrated back to New Zealand and linked up with the Auckland Aces ahead of the 2018/19 season.
Nicknamed “Dad” by his teammates (he was the only player in the team with children), he had played just two Plunket Shield games for the Aces for a handful of wickets in October 2018 before he was swept into the BLACKCAPS Series in Pakistan.
Somerville looks back with an enormous amount of gratitude to the Auckland and BLACKCAPS selectors who believed in his abilities.
"I achieved more than what I thought I could achieve, after becoming a professional cricketer at 30 years old.
"I played nine seasons professionally, and loved every minute of it,” he said as he announced his impending retirement ahead of the last couple of matches of the 2022/23 season.
Somerville’s representative farewell turned out to be the 2022/23 championship-defining match against the Central Stags in Nelson in April, the Stags lifting the first-class crown that Auckland had borne the season before.
Walking off the field for the final time, Somerville finished with 161 first-class wickets from 53 appearances, at 29.98, including four bags, and a best of 8/136.
In his five seasons with the Aces, he also extended his List A and T20 record to reach 32 and 43 overall appearances in the respective formats, and 39 and 40 wickets.
He showed he could swing a bat when required, hitting his first-class career best unbeaten 60* for the Aces, and 59 in The Ford Trophy, and playing a further 34 Dream11 Super Smash T20s after his brief Big Bash stint.
A well liked and respected player with teammates and opponents alike, Somerville chatted to NZC at the conclusion of his final match at Saxton Oval.
Last day of professional cricket, done. How are the emotions?
Will Somerville: “Mixed emotions! I’m quite happy to be finishing. I feel like it’s the right time, and I’ve had a really good run.
"I’ve enjoyed it, but there’s also a bit of sadness and having my parents here [in Nelson, Richard and Di] was pretty emotional at the end there. Giving Mum a hug. They said how proud they were of me, and that really brought a lot of emotion up to the surface. But it makes you feel good, too."
What an exciting last match and day to be involved in, even though it didn’t work out for the Aces. A game where either team could have got the win, still in it on the last day of the summer...
"Yeah it was, especially after having lost more than a day of the match to rain, and here we were playing on that last day in sunshine.
"We were pretty confident we could go out and win it on the last afternoon, but [Central Stags paceman] Ray Toole bowled an amazing spell with seven wickets, he didn’t miss at all, and was swinging the ball which hadn’t really happened much at all in the last few days.
"So CD were deserved winners, they outplayed us, but it was an exciting finish going down to the last day of the whole season which was a nice way to end."
How did it feel leading your team out onto the field for the last time in the previous innings, for your last turn at the bowling crease?
"That was a really nice gesture and I’m just super grateful to have played for the Aces for the last five years. And to have represented my country, New Zealand - those are things I will take to my grave.
"I’ve loved every minute of it and I’m able to reflect on many happy memories. I’m very grateful for all the people who helped me along the way."
Is there one standout cricket memory above all others?
"Certainly my Test debut and the win over Pakistan was the highlight of my cricket playing career. But also, playing at the SCG [Sydney Cricket Ground] in the Test over there against Australia. The same ground where I had played quite a few games for NSW.
"Sydney was where I grew up playing until I was 19, and then I played 10 years of club [grade] cricket in Sydney later on, so it’s like a second home to me, with my wife Eleanor from there.
"That Test there was a really amazing game of cricket, and I remember it was Todd Astle’s last Test and Glenn Phillips’s debut. To share those special experiences with them - even though that game and that Series didn’t got particularly well, was certainly very memorable. And, so was seeing my family in the crowd there and my friends from school.
"But from a cricketing highlight point of view, definitely it was that Series win against Pakistan. With Ajaz having debuted as well in the first Test and winning, then we lost in Dubai, but came back and won that third Test for the Series: that is something I will never forget, for sure. To have contributed was very special."
What’s next for Will Somerville?
"I’ve got a job lined up with Jarden in Auckland, after having finished by Financial Advisory studies last year. I’m really excited about that opportunity, onto the next career, and working with another bunch of really great people.
"My wife will be excited to have me home, and not have to deal with the uncertainties of being a cricketer!
"Watching my young kids grow up and being a bit more involved with coaching in their sports teams, particularly over the summer, is something I’m looking forward to, as well. The timing is right, so I’m just excited now to be moving into my next chapter in life and grateful for all the memories and experiences cricket has given me.”
All images: PHOTOSPORT