It’s been a dramatic year of firsts for teenager Izzy Gaze.

On the back of a full domestic season for the Auckland Hearts, the 18-year-old wicketkeeper started university in March. She took a part-time job the following month, and, at the end of May, she was named as one of six players offered a White Ferns contract for the first time.

And to top it all off, this week she was named in her maiden White Ferns squad for next month’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

As one of two wicketkeepers contracted – alongside Wellington Blaze’s Jess McFadyen, who’s also in the Games squad of 15 – it’s a chance that’s come early in Gaze’s career.

When the White Ferns veteran keeper Katey Martin announced her retirement last month, Gaze knew it opened up an opportunity.

“But I wasn’t expecting anything and I wasn’t getting my hopes up too much,” she says. “It was a little bit in the back of my mind but if it didn’t happen I wouldn’t have been completely disappointed. Because it’s just such a shock thing to happen so soon.”

The chance to become a contracted White Fern does, however, mean she needs to makes some unexpected changes to her life outside cricket.

Gaze is studying a three-year sport and recreation degree at the Auckland University of Technology, but she may need to juggle that with her increased cricket scheduled.

“I’ll chat with them and they’ll help me out and see what’s the best thing for me, whether that’s dropping one of my papers, going completely part-time, or distance learning. I’ve just got to figure that out and see what works best,” she says.

She’s already had to hand in her notice at her part-time job with juice bar Tank. 

Right now, she’s ensconced in the White Ferns camp at Bay Oval in Tauranga, with new head coach Ben Sawyer.

The 15-strong White Ferns side to play at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games with their silver ferns.

Although Gaze’s life is now firmly based in Auckland, her journey started over 18,000km away.

“Dad worked for Adidas for about 13 years, and he and Mum lived in the Netherlands for a decent amount of time,” she says.  “I just happened to be born there [in 2004, the year after Katey Martin first played for New Zealand]. So that’s a pretty cool thing.

“For the first seven years of my life I lived outside of New Zealand – in the Netherlands until I was 18 months old, then in Hong Kong for four years followed by Singapore for just under two years. When we came back, and I slotted straight into Year 4 [at school].”

With the help of the principal at Campbells Bay School, Gaze’s love of cricket started to really develop.

“Our principal, John McGowan, would go out at lunchtime and get everyone out playing cricket on the field. And I just joined in with that,” says Gaze, who ended up playing in the school team.

“Growing up, whenever we used to come back to our holiday place at the Mount we’d always play beach cricket, too.”

Gaze rounded out her school years at Kristin School in Albany. They didn’t have a girls team, so she played in the boys team in Year 7 and 8 and was also playing club cricket at Takapuna.

“My first coach at Takapuna, Damian Cancare, was a big influence on me. He put so much time into those teams. He’s always been, and is still, so supportive,” Gaze says.

Gaze also unexpectedly found herself supported by a White Ferns legend.

“I’ve kept ever since I started, I never really bowled,” she says. “I really started working on my keeping the first time I got into the Auckland U15 side. Around that time, me and Mum discussed whether I should get a batting coach.”

Gaze’s mum, Karen Morgans, called on her friend, former White Fern Kirsty Flavell, who was the first woman to score a double century in test cricket. Flavell put them in touch with her old White Fern teammate and wicketkeeper Rebecca Rolls.

“It turned out she was two in one – for keeping and batting – so I started off keeping and batting coaching with her when I was about 12 and I’ve continued the keeping coaching ever since,” Gaze says.

“I’m keen to work with her for as long as possible; she’s been so good. I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am without all her coaching and support.”

New cap Izzy Gaze at White Ferns net practice in Tauranga. Photo: James Bennet NZC

The next step in schoolgirl Gaze’s progression was the senior ranks at Auckland, making her Super Smash debut for the Hearts against the Wellington Blaze in 2019, aged just 15. She also made her 50-over debut that season, before a significant injury saw her cricket career paused.

“In November 2020, I broke my collarbone right before the season started, so there was no domestic cricket that season,” Gaze says.

“This past season was my first season keeping for the Hearts and I had a bigger role batting. I was pretty lucky to play every game and get the opportunity with the gloves. I guess it went well.”

When she reflects on her cricketing journey so far, Gaze highlights two people in particular – her mum and dad.

Her mum is the scholarship manager for the Tania Dalton Foundation and dad, Andrew Gaze, is CEO of the Coach for Life Foundation.

 “Mum and Dad have been so supportive and I thank them for everything; all the trips to Eden Park from the [North] Shore,” Izzy Gaze says. “Early mornings feeding me balls. I’m just really grateful for all their support.”

Both parents are proud of their daughter’s achievements, and Morgans reflects on the path that’s led to this point.

“Stunned is the first word that pops to mind when Izzy shared the news with us,” she says. “It’s a privilege for Izzy to get this opportunity.

“We’ve always encouraged our girls to be active and had a family rule that they had to play a team sport through to the start of high school. Izzy took that to mean she could put her hand up for every sport going and had a go at rugby, basketball, tennis, hockey, touch and cricket as a youngster. But it’s been hockey and cricket for the last five years.”

Andrew Gaze is quick to acknowledge others who’ve helped their daughter progress this far.

“Izzy has been fortunate to be surrounded by awesome cricket whānau and role models through her Takapuna club where she played her first premier game as a 12-year-old. And through the Auckland Cricket age group programme and now as a member of the Auckland Hearts,” he says.

White Ferns keepers Izzy Gaze (left) and Jess McFadyen work with keeper coach Freddy Anderson. Photo: James Bennett NZC.

The talented teen has had the chance to soak up the White Ferns environment before and it was also an opportunity to strike up a relationship with McFadyen.

“I went to one of the White Ferns camps last year in Nelson and spent a bit of time with her, keeping and doing drills which was really great,” Gaze says. “It’s so good to have two keepers at training. I’m keen to get to know her better and work with her.”

Now she will be taking part in the White Ferns camps as a fully contracted player. With three camps scheduled (two at Bay Oval and one at Lincoln) before the Commonwealth Games squad departs for England on July 11, it’s time to show New Zealand Cricket she’s deserving of the faith shown in her.

“I think first of all it’s about soaking up the excitement,” she says. “I want to take every opportunity and learn from everyone, because everyone’s got so much knowledge, and see what I can take onboard.

“If I get an opportunity to play then I’ll work my ass off and try my best to play hard and go well.”

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