Heading into the first Test between India and Australia in Pune, the name Steve O’Keefe was not considered to be a huge threat. At age 32, he was potentially looking at this Test as his last chance. His selection in the playing XI had been criticised by Shane Warne, the greatest Australian spinner of all time. In four Tests before Pune, O’Keefe had taken just 14 wickets.
In the series against Sri Lanka, O’Keefe was viewed as a threat but he suffered an injury and was ruled out as Australia were whitewashed 3-0 by an inexperienced Sri Lanka side, stretching their losing streak in Asia to nine. Having been blighted by injuries in the series against Pakistan in the UAE in 2014 and in Sri Lanka, it looked O’Keefe’s Test career was finished.
However, in a spectacular display of bowling in Pune, the New South Wales left-arm bowler picked up 6/35 in each innings to finish with a haul of 12/70 as Australia spectacularly snapped their losing streak in India to register a 333-run win. O’Keefe’s returned with the best figures by an overseas spinner ever in India and his career has gotten a fresh leash of final.
Speaking to ABC Grandstand after the win, O’Keefe stated the two important things that he gave up in order to be successful. One was not playing the 2016/17 Big Bash League for Sydney Sixers and the other, totally laying off alcohol.
“Missing out on the Big Bash was a big deal. It was something I wanted to do but I knew coming into a series like this, with the weather, conditions and workload, I had to make sure my body was 100 per cent ready to go because I couldn’t let the team down again. If I did that, I knew it would be an absolute line through my name. “So it meant sacrificing something at home that I wanted to play, but as it turned out it’s a 1-0 start so I feel like that’s sort of vindicated itself,” O’Keefe said.
‘Carried on a like a pork chop’
His second decision, to lay off alcohol totally, came when he was in the crossroads of his career. After he was injured in Sri Lanka, O’Keefe was involved in a drunken incident in a Manly night club and was fined AUD 10,000.
“I blew the chance in Sri Lanka and didn’t do myself any favours when I got home; I carried on like a pork chop,” O’Keefe rued. “It was the wake-up call I needed. I swore off alcohol for the summer and left nothing to chance in order to prepare for India.”
O’Keefe also said that the decision to lay-off white ball cricket was necessary in order to be prepared for the rigours of Test cricket. “I know now in my body that I’ve been able to have success because I’ve sacrificed some white-ball cricket to be able to play a lot of red-ball cricket,” the left-arm spinner stated.
With Australia having snapped their winless run in India, they will be hoping for a repeat performance in the Bangalore Test starting on March 4.