MATT Short stood at a fork in the sporting road.
The Ballarat teenager faced the choice of pursuing a career in either cricket or AFL.
It is a situation talented youngsters regularly find themselves in across a variety of sports.
Short had ticked all the boxes in cricket – progressing through the various age group pathways at regional state and national levels to be pressing for national selection.
He was also showing all the right signs on the football field, having broken into TAC Cup under-18 ranks with the North Ballarat Rebels in 2012 and with the prospect of making an even bigger mark in 2013, and perhaps putting himself in contention for the AFL national draft.
It wasn’t necessarily going to be an easy choice.
But right now as one of Australia cricket’s best young batting prospects, Short has no doubt his decision to pursue a baggy green cap was the right call.
Short said the offer of a rookie contract with the Victorian Bushrangers at the start of last year sealed the deal.
He said up to that point, he had been leaning towards having a serious crack with Rebels.
Short said once the cricket contract was on the table it was a “no brainer” and he hasn’t looked back.
His achievements in the past 12 months speak for themselves.
He has consolidated himself as an opening batsman in the Australian under-19 team, attracting rookie contracts with the Victorian Bushrangers and twenty20 outfit Melbourne Renegades, and has now been selected in an elite group for a three-month program at the Cricket Australia Centre of Excellence in Queensland – a stint that will take him to Sri Lanka for a month during the Australian off-season.
It has been an exciting journey so far for the 18-year-old, who cut his teeth as a cricketer with East Ballarat before progressing to Northcote in Victorian Premier Cricket.
His highlights include a century on debut for the Australian under-19s against New Zealand in NZ early last year and then representing his country in the World Under-19 Cup in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.
Right now he is taking the opportunity to put his feet up before getting back into training in pursuit of a Victorian Bushrangers debut next season – breaking into the one-day team is his initial goal.
Short said he was enjoying having the opportunity to relax for a couple of months while spending time with family and friends.
These are comforts not always afforded to an international cricketer, as Short has found in the past year while mixing training commitments at state and national level, and playing in NZ, Sri Lanka, the UAE and around Australia.
All this, and he has his VCE studies as well.
The world cup
Short said with five weeks away for the World Cup, which included three practice matches in Sri Lanka on the way to the tournament, he was ready for some “down time”.
He will not completely give up all training – he cannot afford to, and will maintain a largely gym-based fitness regime.
Short knows he is only in the formative stages of his cricket career and must keep training if he is to go on to achieve his major goal of playing for Australia at the highest level.
So much so that despite some outstanding performances with the bat for the Australian under-19s, Short says he was far from happy with his form overall.
“I was disappointed with my season,” he said with particular reference to his efforts for Northcote, where in a handful of matches he was unable to find his best touch.
“I struggled a bit.”
What Short, who also bowls off-spin, did manage was his century on debut against NZ and two half centuries in the World Cup, with 96 against Namibia and 52 against the West Indies.
With batting technique largely in place, Short said developing mental strength had been a major focus since joining the national program.
He said he had worked closely in this area with Australian cricket legend and under-19 team manager Greg Chappell.
Short said Chappell had emphasised the importance of batting with a clear mindset.
Short said the upcoming stint at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane would be critical in his development.
He said working on the mental side of his game would be a key focus.
This is sure to be assisted by the fact that with his secondary studies behind him and, for the moment, a primary school teaching course at Ballarat’s Federation University of Australia on hold, he will now be able to put all his efforts into cricket.
It’s something he will need to do, with such high expectations.
But it will be first things first and he knows that before he can make inroads nationally in open age cricket he must first taste success at state level.
Short will again be with the Bushrangers as a rookie next season, with his initial ambition being to break into the one-day team.
He said right now he saw himself predominantly as a one-day player.
“I’ve grown up with it.”
Short said with an ambition to play Test cricket he had a lot of work do on the longer forms of the game.
That is a challenge Short is more than keen to take on.
18 years old
• Right-hand opening batsman
• Right-arm off-spin bowler
• Victorian Premier Cricket: Northcote
• Home club: East Ballarat
• Victorian Bushrangers rookie
• Melbourne Renegades rookie
• Victorian under-17s
• Victorian under-19s
• Australian under-19s
• Playing World Under-19 Cup in UAE
• Played in NZ, Sri Lanka
• Played against NZ, India, Sri Lanka, PNG, West Indies, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, South Africa