Isabella Gaze, the girl who always knew she would be a wicketkeeper

The 18-year old New Zealander is all set to make her debut at the Commonwealth Games T20s

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
A 13-year-old girl had approached Rebecca Rolls for help with her wicketkeeping and batting five years ago. Former wicketkeeper-batter Rolls, who won the Women's World Cup with New Zealand in 2000, was impressed by what she saw.
"It became obvious to me that she could catch," Rolls tells ESPNcricinfo. "Her coordination was good and she didn't flinch. For a wicketkeeper that's quite important."
The teenager was Isabella Gaze, who had climbed up the ranks from school cricket and made the Auckland Under-15 side.
"She was keen and really wanted to be a wicketkeeper. A lot of people don't necessarily know at that age as cricketers what they want to do and how they want to specialise. She was quite determined that wicketkeeping was for her and that impressed me.
"And then what I saw with the bat was exciting as well - she was positive and really wanted to hit the ball and get runs. I had had people throughout my sporting career that gave me time to help me out at that age, so I was keen to work with her."


Gaze was called up for the New Zealand camp in Nelson in January this year ahead of the women's white-ball series against India and the Women's World Cup. It was the first time she was around the national set-up. Among the players in the camp were fellow wicketkeepers Katey Martin and Jess McFadyen. Gaze would have to wait, clearly, to break into the New Zealand squad with Natalie Dodd, who played the last of her 18 ODIs against England last year, also around.
After the World Cup, Martin hung up her boots and a month later, Gaze was among the six new players to be given central contracts by NZC. That was followed by her maiden call-up for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham starting from July 29.
"When I got to the White Ferns camp in Nelson, I started realising that maybe I can work hard and break into the side in future years," Gaze, 18, says. "I wasn't expecting it to come this soon. When Katey Martin retired, I knew that an opportunity opened and am grateful to be given one this young and this early."


Born in the Netherlands, Gaze lived there for 18 months before moving to Hong Kong for four years and then spent a couple of years in Singapore. She played rugby in Hong Kong and Singapore and dabbled in tennis before taking up hockey. She also tried ballet, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Madison, before deciding sport was for her.
"I have always really enjoyed sport and my family is always very supportive," Gaze says. "My parents played multiple sports growing up and being raised in such a family where you are very active, sport came very naturally. It was never like a chore; it was always a choice."
At Campbells Bay Primary School in Auckland, Gaze had her first official brush with cricket. Her principal, John McGowen, used to encourage everyone to play cricket during lunch time. She would join in and eventually signed up to play for the school team.
"I think I have always enjoyed wicketkeeping because you are involved in every ball and you don't get bored on the field," she says. "As a bowler it can be a pretty hard area where you get hit hard but with keeping it's [largely] in your control."
In a bid to better her skills, Gaze was looking for a wicketkeeping and batting coach to help her. New Zealand's Kirsty Flavell, the first to hit a double-century in women's Tests and friends with Gaze's mother, put her in touch with Rolls.
"When we started, we split our sessions into half keeping and half batting," Rolls recalls. "I am not a trained coach, I train on my instincts and how I played the game. So the way we went about it was to try and have fun and try and be positive.
"I was really keen to encourage her to hit the ball hard and swing hard and have a really good bat speed. We really worked on her batting for a couple of years and as she started to make representative sides here in New Zealand, the batting coaches picked her up.
"I always impressed on her that if you were the best keeper in the world but in the modern game if you can't bat, it's not good."
Gaze made rapid strides and at 15, made her Super Smash debut for Auckland Hearts in December 2019. A couple of months later, she made her first appearance in the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield match against Central Districts. She made a total of seven appearances across formats in her first season before a collarbone fracture in November 2020 ruled her out of the 2020-21 season.
The following season, she kept wicket for Auckland in the T20s and for some games of the 50-over competition while playing all games across both white-ball formats. And it culminated with her becoming a centrally contracted player.
In the latest phase of her career, Gaze has to juggle training and playing with studying sport and recreation part-time at the Auckland University of Technology. She is in her first year and is inclined towards majoring in sport and exercise science. "Through school I enjoyed physical education and the assignments and enjoyed the deeper side of sports," Gaze says having carried her textbooks and laptop to Birmingham.


Even after Gaze made the Auckland teams, she continued playing hockey until March this year, when she stopped to stay free from injuries. Hockey and tennis helped with her hand speed and bat swing in cricket. Good hand-eye coordination, as a result, also meant that it was easier for her to play inventive strokes, where it was important to get close to the line of the ball.
"When you play sports that can feel the ball on an implement - like the bat or the racquet or the hockey stick - that's quite natural to you," Rolls explains. "She's quite inventive already even at a young age and that comes from being close to the ball.
"She's confident and doesn't flinch when she's keeping. She's confident with the face close to the ball, which is not natural for most of the players."
One of the youngest players in the New Zealand squad, Gaze strives for perfection and has a hunger and drive to succeed.
"Oh she gets so frustrated when she gets something wrong! Probably reminds me of me at that age but that's good feedback for me that we are doing the right things," Rolls says.
"She just wants it so much. She is so driven to succeed. Her drive, her tenacity… she always wants to get better. The satisfaction she gets when she gets it right - I can share that. Keepers know what I mean! She tries to make sure she makes changes to her game that give her a point of difference."

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo