Marsh Sheffield Shield 2020-21
How COVID helped cricket secure a football talent
Leg-spinner Wil Parker explains his decision to choose cricket over a potential career in Australian Rules football
24 June 2020, 11:46 AM AEST
The COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently helped cricket secure the services of talented Australian Rules footballer Wil Parker, with the 18-year-old signing to play cricket with Victoria instead of nominating himself for the AFL player draft.
Parker, a leg-spinner who impressed in two games with the Vics last season, had planned to play football in the Victorian Under-19 league this winter and had been approached by several AFL clubs about playing the code professionally from next year.
But with Victorian football leagues postponed this year due to the pandemic, and with uncertainty surrounding the future playing and coaching structures at AFL clubs as part of cost-cutting measures, Parker opted to accept a contract to play cricket professionally rather than risk it all for a shot at the AFL.
"Having the experience last year in cricket, it gave me an idea that I'm a chance to make it in cricket rather than hedge my bets in footy," said Parker, who reportedly could have been taken in the top 20 picks had he entered the AFL draft.
"If I had a chance to play footy, I could be in a totally different position … I could have had a great season, nominated for the draft and who knows what would have happened?
"But obviously in the current circumstances, there's no footy going on so I didn't feel as confident nominating for the draft. And obviously I got an opportunity with cricket and I took it.
"It was a very hard decision, one that I weighed up for a long time. I love both sports, but I had to choose one eventually."
Parker sought advice from his new Victorian teammate Will Sutherland, who was also approached by AFL scouts as a teenager before committing to cricket.
He also had a useful sounding board in the form of his uncle Geoff Parker, a former Australia Under-19 captain and state-level player in cricket who is now the head recruiting manager for Port Adelaide in the AFL.
But Parker hasn't completely shut the door on playing the winter sport again, pointing to former Victoria and Melbourne Stars cricketer and now AFL player Alex Keath as an example of how a mid-career code swap is possible.
"I wouldn't say it's the final decision and I'm never going to play footy again," he said.
"Professional sport can go either way and if cricket turns bad, there is that option to play footy again.
"We've seen people like Alex Keath go back to footy and obviously that is an option."
Parker, who was a medium-pace bowler at junior level before a back injury saw him turn his hand to cricket's toughest art, has been mentored by former Test leggie Jim Higgs at his Premier Cricket club, Richmond.
But it's a meeting with the greatest leg-spinner of them all, Shane Warne, that Parker has his eye on now that he's committed to the summer spot.
"That'd be a great experience," he said. "I'd love to talk about cricket, leg-spin bowling and life in general with the great man."
Parker is one of three frontline spinners on Victoria's contract list for this season, alongside Test tweaker Jon Holland and another teenage leggie in Tom O'Connell, who was poached from South Australia amid much fan-fare in 2018 but is yet to break into first-class cricket.
Parker got his chance in the Marsh Sheffield Shield last season due to an injury to Holland, leaping up the pecking order, and believes the pair can play in the same side.
"There's no need for just one spinner, I can see us both playing together," he said.
"Yes, we turn it the same way but it's a totally different type of bowling and we both offer different aspects."
2020-21 Victoria squad: Scott Boland, Xavier Crone, Travis Dean, Zak Evans, Jake Fraser-McGurk, Seb Gotch, Peter Handscomb, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Mackenzie Harvey, Jon Holland, Nic Maddinson, Jono Merlo, Tom O'Connell, Wil Parker, Mitch Perry, Will Pucovski, Matthew Short, Will Sutherland.