Australian news April 29, 2010

Alex Keath chooses cricket over AFL

Cricket has scored a rare victory over Australian rules football with the multi-talented teenager Alex Keath choosing bat and ball over a potentially lucrative AFL career. Keath, 18, has signed a several-year contract with Cricket Victoria despite the probability that he would play senior AFL football next year.

An allrounder who has been compared to his fellow Victorian Andrew McDonald, Keath was part of the Australia team that won the Under-19 World Cup. He scored 216 runs at 43.20 to be the eighth leading scorer in the tournament, and also collected six wickets at 16.33 with his medium-pace bowling.

However, his football prospects appeared just as promising when he was named as one of the dozen 17-year-olds chosen by the newly-formed Gold Coast club, which will make its first appearance in the AFL in 2011. The Victoria coach Greg Shipperd said Keath could be ready to make his state debut next summer, although 2011-12 was more realistic.

His decision has gone against the trend in recent years of talented young cricketers choosing to pursue careers in the AFL, where there are greater opportunities with 16 clubs each listing around 40 players. The current West Coast player Brett Jones opted for football after being named as a rookie batsman with Western Australia, his West Coast team-mate Shannon Hurn also went for football, while several other AFL stars were also promising young cricketers.

"Money was never part of the decision, it was about what I love," Keath said. "But I think it's a really exciting time for cricket. Opportunities are really opening up, so I'm sure that will have a bit to do with the strength of cricket at the moment.

"It's definitely difficult to say goodbye to football at this juncture but I'm excited by the opportunity that Cricket Victoria have placed in front of me. I've been building towards this for quite some time."

Keath is still completing his high school studies and will play football for Melbourne Grammar this year. As he stood on the damp MCG grass in the middle of AFL season with bat and ball in hand, it was clear that Cricket Victoria was thrilled with its acquisition, which followed on from Western Australia last summer securing Mitchell Marsh, another highly talented young footballer.

"For us, the coaching team, it's like having a young Brad Hodge or Cameron White or Andrew McDonald walk through the door and say 'I want to play cricket for my state and I want to play cricket for my country'," Shipperd said. "That's a fantastic challenge for us to make this young man's dreams come true. He's well placed to go to all of those levels."

Keath's decision effectively ends his football career, as the professionalism in both sports in recent years has meant year-round training is necessary. In previous decades there have been a number of men who have played Test cricket and Australian rules at the highest level, not since Nick Jewell and Michael Clark, who each played a solitary AFL game, have first-class cricketers combined the sports.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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  • giovaughn on April 29, 2010, 16:29 GMT

    what?? i didnt think that the all knowing, all mighty Australians would have such a problem. lol when we poor simple minded west indians say we're losing talent to football, track & field & basketball you thought we were just whining & making excuses. but in fact it is a serious problem for us who love quality cricket. and with people like lucyferr influencing the teens with talent it can be a very tough challenge getting youngsters to choose cricket. a prime example is Usain Bolt he is extremely talented in track but he was not bad at football & cricket either. nobody will ever know how far he would have gotten if he had chosen cricket. the respective boards have to make playing international cricket an attractive & lucrative option. we need more george headley's to not only tell young micheal holding's to play cricket & see the world. but to help them to make a comfortable life out of cricket as a careeer.

  • lucy on April 29, 2010, 14:53 GMT

    Poor lad - isn't it possible for him to play both AFL and just T20? I mean, ODI cricket is irrelevant, and Test cricket is boring... ah well. I suppose he just wanted to travel and see other lands, which is far more possible with cricket than Aussie Rules. It's not like cricket's an inherently more interesting sport, after all. What is the current wage differential between cricket and AFL now anyway?

  • Neil on April 29, 2010, 11:07 GMT

    There was a time once when players could be professionals in both sports.

  • Jeff on April 29, 2010, 9:22 GMT

    No disrespect to Andrew McDonald, who has been a fantastic cricketer for the Vics, but young Keath will leave him behind. A real bonus that he has chosen cricket, as he is a gun!!

  • Prbath on April 29, 2010, 6:56 GMT

    good on u mate...........

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