Williams heads down under in pursuit of opportunity
Many that read this will have at one stage harboured dreams of making a career out of playing the sport that they love.
But with potential obstacles coming thick and fast, the path to success is rarely a simple one – a statement that cricketer Darrel Williams knows to be true.
The 22-year-old leg spinner, who spent his teenage years progressing through the youth ranks at Worcestershire, took the tough decision to leave his county, and indeed his home country, to head for the small city of Dubbo in New South Wales in pursuit of his dream.
After a frustrating summer with Worcestershire, where he often struggled for opportunities, the chance arose for Williams to sign on for the season with Dubbo-based side RSL Colts, who allowed him the chance to further his game in a land where club cricket is taken a lot more seriously, and typically played to a much higher standard.
“It was really hard making the decision, obviously leaving the family behind, especially the grandparents, who are getting older now and you never know when it could be the last time you’ll see them,” he told me.
“But it was something I ultimately had to do if I wanted to make a career out of cricket.”
Whilst playing for the Colts is the key part of Darrel’s progress towards his long-term ambition of making it as a professional cricketer, it’s not enough to pay all the bills at the moment.
“It’s quite tough balancing the work I’m doing with the cricket, that’s the main thing. The work is basically maintaining and cleaning around this big entertainment building, like a casino, that is owned by the sponsors of the club.
‘I didn’t want to just take the easy option and stay in England training and crossing my fingers that I’d find a club, I wanted to take a bit of a gamble and come out to Australia’
“It’s a 4am start and long, tedious work, but it pays the bills and supports me while I’m here as well as letting me have the weekends and evenings free for the cricket.
“I start at four, work non-stop until 1:30pm and then get my gear on and go straight to training, so it can be really strenous at times, especially with the heat, but it’s something I’ve got to do to keep my dream alive when I come back to the UK.”
It was a bit of a culture shock for Williams too, moving to the other side of the world and starting from scratch without knowing anybody, other than the one contact at the Colts that had helped arrange the move in the first place.
The Durham graduate continued: “Obviously, trying to play a high level of cricket in heat that I’m not used to when I’m waking up at 4am every morning is tough. But my body is slowly getting used to it now, even though some days it feels like I’ve aged about 40 years!
“I didn’t want to just take the easy option and stay in England training and crossing my fingers that I’d find a club, I wanted to take a bit of a gamble and come out to Australia to experience some different cricketing conditions, and just try something new really.”
A duck to water
Despite the struggles balancing work and play, Williams is exceeding even his own expectations and is so far thriving in his new environment. The leg-spinning all-rounder is currently averaging 67 runs per game in the Whitney Cup, a first-grade league. He’s also notched up two five-wicket hauls.
‘Hitting a six at the SCG is a proud achievement for sure, considering I haven’t even got one for Dubbo yet!’
“To be honest, it’s going brilliantly so far. I’d say it took me a few weeks to get into my stride, definitely. But once I did, I’ve started taking a lot of wickets over here now, and I’m averaging just over 50 (runs per game) at the moment.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be selected to play for the Dubbo Representative squad, which is what you’d call the district team in the UK.
“I did well for them and also got to play for the Western Zone select in a big cricket carnival last month, against other regional select teams, and ended up that tournament as leading wicket taker as well which was a big honour.”
Williams’ excellent form even led to a call-up to represent the Orana Outlaws at the fabled 46,000-seat Sydney Cricket Ground for the regional Big Bash T20 competition in early December, getting 23 runs and taking three wickets in the semi-final before coming up short in the final.
“Hitting a six at the SCG is a proud achievement for sure, one I’d never thought I’d manage to achieve considering I haven’t even got one for Dubbo yet!”
He’s doing so well in fact, that he only missed out on a chance to represent the New South Wales country team, the finest talent in NSW excluding players that are based in Sydney, which he calls “the equivalent of playing first-class in England”, on a technicality, having played a first-class game back in the UK earlier this year which ruled him ineligible for selection.
“That was a bit gutting, but overall it’s going really well, touch wood.”
But no matter how well he does, Williams’ intention is only to remain in Australia until the British summer time, when he plans to seek out a county side that can provide him the chance that Worcestershire failed to.
“The circumstances of me getting my scholarship to play cricket at Durham Uni just never really worked out with Worcestershire,” he said.
“I was only able to be around for half the year, and I think that hampered me a bit, I never really got the chance to showcase my full abilities there.”
“Come January time, I’m going to be sending off application forms to different counties and trying to find a new club, because I feel like I never got the best opportunities at the county I’ve been at.
‘”As long as I keep performing then hopefully more opportunities will arise when I get back to England’
“I’m getting a bit older now, but I still think I’ve got a few years in me to try and get a full-time professional contract somewhere. But I do feel like I need to be getting on with that now as I’m learning my game better and improving all the time.”
Of course nobody really knows for sure what the future holds, but with Gloucestershire off-spinner Jack Taylor recently receiving a 12-month ban as a result of an illegal bowling action, perhaps Williams’ next step could land him much closer to home.
And after uprooting to Australia, Williams certainly has no qualms about where he ends up once he returns to England.
“Ideally it’d be somewhere a bit closer to home, in Gloucestershire, but if a team on the other side of the country get back to me then I’d be on the move again. All that depends on how I perform out here.
“As long as I keep performing then hopefully more opportunities will arise when I get back to England.”
Darrel is on Twitter @DarrelW95