Steven O'Keefe was the leading wicket-takers during the Sheffield Shield tournament last year with 41 scalps © Getty Images
Steven O’Keefe was the leading wicket-takers during the Sheffield Shield tournament last year with 41 scalps © Getty Images

By Gaurav Joshi

Oct 4, 2014

Left arm orthodox spinner, Steven O’Keefe believes his experience of bowling with Nathan Lyon in Sheffield Shield last year will hold him in good shape if he is selected alongside Lyon for Australia in the upcoming Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
O’keefe was the leading wicket taker in shield cricket last season with 41 wickets at 20.43 in 10 matches. Out of the 10 matches O’Keefe and Lyon shared the spin bowling duties for New South Wales (NSW) in five games.

“I bowled a few times with Lyon in tandem. Shield final, Western Australia, first couple of shield games so I’ve bowled with him 4 or 5 times. He is the country best spinner, a genius and  he has done well. He has had to work hard for it. If I get that opportunity to be a 2nd spinner to him then I will certainly relish that opportunity,” said O’Keefe.

In the nine innings the pair bowled together for NSW, O’Keefe and Lyon picked up 14 and 13 wickets respectively.  It was worth noting O’Keefe was more economical and had a better average than his senior partner.

O’Keefe should have had the opportunity of bowling in tandem with Lyon at the international level on the tour of India early last year. But the left arm spinner was overlooked in favour of Xavier Doherty despite picking up 24 wickets at 22 on seamer friendly pitches in the 2012/13 season.

Despite the setback, O’Keefe was confident his turn would come if he continued to pick up a barrage of wickets in First-Class cricket.

“I still had hopes of wearing the baggy green and when your playing for NSW, such a strong state. If you are doing well then you give yourself every opportunity. I just knew I had to make a season stand out.  Fortunately we won the shield last year and got rewarded”

While he is yet to discuss strategies with ace spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, Australia’s bowling consultant in the UAE, O’Keefe has done some homework. O’Keefe had observed Sri Lankan spinner, Rangana Herath closely in the recent series versus Pakistan.

“Given the conditions might be a bit slow and the way Herath bowled over there against Pakistan. It is still a pretty simple mentality.  Just bowl at the stumps and try spin it as hard as you can. Do your homework on their batters, they have a lot of right hand batters which is helpful but they are also skill full in those conditions so it will be about getting to know the opponents. It is about bowling accurately and consistently,” the Malaysia-born spinner added.

O’keefe is perhaps only a fortnight away from childhood dream of wearing the baggy green but he is aware there plenty of hard work between now and the first Test on October 22nd.

“I’m pretty excited but I feel a sense of responsibility knowing at my age I got to make this opportunity work for me. excited but I know there is a lot of hard word between now and the 1st Test to be picked,” added O’Keefe.

(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph).