Seb Gotch finishes his career having played 29 first-class matches for Victoria, scoring 1187 runs at an average of 33.91. (Photo: @VicStateCricket Twitter / Design: Will Cuckson)

Forced into retirement at the age of just 28 due to a chronic finger injury, former Victorian wicketkeeper batter Seb Gotch has endured a highly challenging last 12-18 months. Entering the next chapter of his life, Gotch still remains excited about what’s to come.

Forced into retirement at the age of just 28 due to a chronic finger injury, Victorian wicketkeeper batter Seb Gotch has endured a highly challenging last 12-18 months. Now, with his days as a professional cricketer over, entering the next chapter of his life, Gotch remains excited about what’s to come. 

On February 25, 2017, a 23-year-old Gotch earnt his first-class debut for Victoria at the WACA, brimming with enthusiasm in the hope of forging a long and fruitful career. Fast-forward four years later and the Victorian found himself at the same venue as where it all began, this time representing his State for the 29th time in Sheffield Shield cricket. Unbeknown to Gotch, the match would turn out to be his last ever game of professional cricket, with a painful turn of events ending his career prematurely. 

In some respects, Gotch has come full circle. However, the rollercoaster ride that is professional cricket was never meant to end as abruptly as it did. Cruelled by a debilitating finger injury, Gotch has been forced to walk away from the game he’s always loved years before he or anyone would have possibly expected. 

The release of Cricket Victoria’s men’s contract list for season 2022-23 last month confirmed his retirement to the Australian cricketing public.

For Gotch, it was a decision that had been ultimately made months before the announcement. Yet coming to terms with what has transpired over the last year hasn’t been an easy task. 

“Personally, I think I knew from maybe four or five months before it got announced what was going to occur. With the finger being so sore and debilitating, I went through a process myself of trialing different grips and trying to manage the pain,” Gotch told The Inner Sanctum.

“I was more so battling with I guess the disbelief in my own head that things weren’t working the way I wanted them to work.”

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Gotch’s troubles with his finger have been an ongoing battle over the past two years, with the first break occurring during a first-class match against Queensland in February 2020.

Whilst an injury can never come at a good time, Gotch found himself in a strong patch of form before sustaining the damage.

“I’d come off back-to-back hundreds as well, so I was feeling really good with the bat, sort of on top of the world, it was my first hundred, I was loving it,” he said.

With the 2019/20 season reaching its final stages, the decision was made that end-of-season surgery would ensue. Unfortunately, surgery didn’t yield its intended results. 

“After the surgery, the bone started to disintegrate almost and got really really skinny. It started bending pretty heavily to the right, basically overlapping my middle finger and it just got to the point where I couldn’t hold the bat,” Gotch explains.

“The longer it went, the sorer it was getting.”

Still unable to resolve the issue after a few further operations, the mental toll of living with a seemingly irreparable injury started to weigh heavily.

Gotch explains that the injury caused him to shut off from those around him, leading him somewhat to a state of denial.

“I got pretty closed [off] I think throughout that whole process. I didn’t want to admit what was going on. I was sort of almost just waiting for a miracle and thought that if I didn’t tell anyone, didn’t say anything, things would just turn around.” he said.

“But I can imagine it would have been pretty hard on my partner. She saw the worst of it every day.”

Unlike those within his inner circle, Gotch’s teammates possessed no knowledge of the severity of his predicament, having chosen not to vocalise his personal struggles in a team setting. 

“I think that’s down to my own competitiveness. Feeling like I was defeated by an injury, I just couldn’t quite accept it.”

Now given the hardship which he has endured, Gotch would be forgiven for not sharing the same love for cricket he once possessed. Yet Gotch says that he still gets pride from watching his former teammates’ success. 

“I still love watching my teammates,” he said.

“I still look up the scores and get that same feeling when I see one of my mates make a hundred or take five wickets.

“As for my own love of cricket, I would love to keep playing but I think with how debilitating it is, it would be very frustrating playing at a standard that you know you can perform better than.

“I think I’ll need a bit of time off to just let things heal and work out whether there’s a hole in my life that needs cricket back it in I guess.”

The game of cricket has served as a big part of Gotch’s life since a young age. Plying his craft for Melbourne Cricket Club in Premier Cricket, Gotch earnt his first appearance at the domestic level through the Cricket Australia XI in 2015. 

But it was in 2017 that Gotch found himself handed his first-class debut for Victoria, becoming the 847th player to represent the State. As Gotch recalls, a combination of injuries and international call-ups for fellow Victorian wicketkeepers meant that everything fell into place quite quickly. 

“It was a Steven Bradbury moment my first game. Andrew McDonald called me into a room and said we basically have no-one else that can wear keeping gloves, so you’re going to have to keep.”

It was far from a fairytale debut for Gotch, with Victoria succumbing to an innings and 38-run loss to Western Australia inside two days. From an individual perspective, Gotch had let through numerous byes during his side’s bowling innings, prompting an interesting conversation with then-Victorian coach Andrew McDonald in the immediate aftermath of the match. 

“I remember Andrew McDonald saying that’ll be the last game you ever keep for Victoria,” Gotch recounts.

A month later, Gotch is the wicketkeeper of a Sheffield Shield winning side, a quite remarkable conclusion to his first season with Victoria. Occupying a position at number seven in the batting order, Gotch went on to accumulate 100 runs across both innings of the match, including a score of 52 in the first innings. 

Leading up to the final, Gotch had produced some gritty knocks for Victoria, including a valuable 30 not out against Queensland to help establish a first-innings lead for his team. Forging a reputation as someone capable of occupying the crease for long periods, Gotch believes that these sorts of innings typified his career. 

“I think that’s what I based my career around. I was never the best player in the team or the flashiest, but I always felt like I could do a team thing or dig in when we needed someone to do that,” he said.

Establishing himself as a regular fixture in Victoria’s Sheffield Shield line-up in the coming seasons, Gotch once again tasted success in 2018/19, with Victoria defeating New South Wales at the Junction Oval to secure its fourth title in five seasons.

Gotch celebrates Victoria’s Sheffield Shield triumph over New South Wales in the 2018/19 season. (Photo: cricketvictoria.com.au)

The following year he put together the best performances of his career, securing consecutive first-class hundreds, including his maiden century for Victoria against New South Wales.

Surprisingly, Gotch felt the furthest away from a hundred heading into the game, coming off the back of a rather subdued campaign for the Melbourne Stars in the BBL weeks earlier.

Reflecting on his maiden first-class century, a fateful coming together with Australian selector George Bailey at a net session leading into the clash immediately springs to Gotch’s mind.

“I got bowled three times, caught behind twice, I would have only been in there for four minutes, and on the last ball the ball bowled my off-stump, and the stump sort of went out the net and landed at George’s feet,” he said.

“He picked it up and walked it back to me and he said, ‘Do you want me to sit down or stand up when you make a hundred today?’, and we both laughed.”

Just over 24 hours later and Gotch brought up a memorable hundred on Day 2 at the SCG, earning the plaudits of Bailey in the stands. 

“I remember looking over and he was standing on the sidelines clapping at the hundred.”

A significant part of Gotch’s cricketing journey also came during his time at the Melbourne Stars. Making his BBL debut early in 2017, Gotch played 36 games for the Stars across the best part of five seasons, featuring in three finals campaigns.

During that period, Gotch rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in international cricket, including the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Luke Wright, and Kevin Pietersen.  

“That was an incredible time. I was just a kid when that happened. I was 21 or 22 and was literally just sort of starstruck by a lot of those people,” Gotch said.

However, Gotch was particularly influenced by the core group of Victorian players in the squad, none more so than teammate Bobby Quiney. 

“He took on a father figure role from a very young age,” he said.

“Bobby never gave up. He was always there to give me some advice and put me under his wing.

“I think that’s what I got the most out of my time at the Melbourne Stars, it was just a really welcoming place that made everyone feel a part of it.”

Perhaps best remembered amongst many cricket fans is Gotch’s affinity for the short sleeves while wicketkeeping for the Stars. For Gotch, it was something that he’d always done throughout his junior years and in Premier Cricket. Yet for cricket traditionalists, seeing Gotch don the short sleeves in his BBL debut at the MCG proved to be quite the shock, prompting widespread debate across social media. 

“I had no idea that it was going to become that big of an issue,” he said with a smile.

“I remember walking off the ground that first game and I was trending on Twitter!”

However, it would be naïve to think that Gotch walks away from the game purely remembered for his choices in apparel. In Victorian cricket circles, he will forever have his place in the history books, having been a valued member of two Sheffield Shield title-winning campaigns. 

Reflecting on the proudest moments of his career, Gotch looks beyond his achievements out on the cricket field. Instead, he mainly draws comfort from the way he carried himself within a team environment.

“I’d like to think that I could always bring a good time, make people happy and bring a nice energy.”

“I hope having retired now, my teammates can look back and say that he was an upbeat character, he always had a smile on his face, he was a little bit silly at times, but he had good intentions at heart.”

Now embarking on the next phase of his life, Gotch is looking forward to what lies ahead. Currently working as a Commercial Finance Specialist at Matias Group, Gotch is enjoying the challenge of his first-ever job outside of cricket.

“Whilst I’ve lost a side of my life that was cricket, I’ve made up in many other things. There’s still a lot to achieve and hopefully, I can stay driven and work at the next phase.”

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