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Discarded Victorian cricketer Alex Keath would be a realistic chance to find a new home in the AFL should he decide to return to the sport he quit as a teenager five years ago.
Most AFL clubs have remained in semi-regular contact with Keath since he shunned an offer to be part of Gold Coast’s foundation team to sign with the Bushrangers, a move hailed by Cricket Australia given its long struggle to keep multi-talented teenagers from playing football instead.
“Cricket continues to improve its position as a sport of choice for talented young athletes,” CA chief executive James Sutherland said in April 2010. “Alex has shown himself to be a cricketer of high potential and I wish him every success in his chosen sport.”
At least 14 clubs have been in periodic contact with either Keath or an intermediary across the past five years, with the majority planning to gauge his intentions in the next few weeks. Keath, one of three Victorian players to lose their contracts, is in England playing league cricket during the Australian winter season.
The 196 centimetre Keath would be able to sign easily with the club of his choice given he has not been registered with a football club for more than three years.
He could therefore be signed as a category B rookie outside the draft with clubs able to pay him outside the salary cap until he made the senior team.
While some recruiters believe the 23-year-old has spent too much time away from football to successfully return to AFL, and are concerned by the knee problems he endured early in his time at Victoria, others believe he has enough talent to overcome that.
This year’s draft is considered to be of particularly poor depth, prompting many to look for left-field recruiting options.
It is understood Keath has been consistent in indicating to clubs that he was still passionate about playing cricket and had no plans to give it up to return to football.
Keath, who is also expected to be discarded by Big Bash League team Melbourne Stars, could continue to pursue his cricketing career despite his axing by the Bushrangers. He could stay in Victoria and look to earn a recall playing club cricket for Melbourne, or seek a contract interstate.
Keath was a highly talented key position prospect when he was listed by the Suns as one of the dozen 17-year-olds the fledgling club were able to sign during 2009.
Around the same time, he was captaining the Victorian under-19 cricket side and representing Australia as an all-rounder in the junior World Cup.
In his first season on contract with Victoria, he made 192 not out in his first innings, in the Futures Leagues against Western Australia. In the following month he added to his reputation with an assured 46 against England. Nevertheless, he struggled to break into a Bushrangers line-up that featured all-rounders such as Andrew McDonald, John Hastings and, in the past two seasons, Daniel Christian.
While generally classed as an all-rounder, Keath’s lack of pace – at best he is a medium-pacer – has seen him gradually considered more of a batsman, one who boasts a good technique and is renowned more for his patience than for his hitting.
In his five years with Victoria, he played only six Sheffield Shield and nine Matador Cup matches. In his last Shield match, away to Tasmania in November, he made only 45 and 30 but faced 169 deliveries, the most of any Bushranger in the hefty eight-wicket loss. Both innings exceeded his previous Shield-best score of 18 not out, although his current record of 128 runs at an average of 14.22 is well below what was expected of him and what he expected of himself.
Also off Victoria’s contract list are David Hussey, who has retired from all but Twenty20, and fast-bowlers Louis Cameron and Jake Haberfield. Replacing them are all-rounder Ian Holland, 24, batsman Travis Dean, 23, and 18-year-old wicketkeeper Sam Harper on a rookie deal. Peter Siddle has also returned to the squad, having recently lost his Cricket Australia contract.
With Jesse Hogan