New Delhi Steve O’Keefe was the wrecker-in-chief for Australia on Day 2 of the first Test match against India as the left-arm spinner claimed his first five wicket haul in Test cricket. The left-arm spinner finished with 6/35 to demolish the hosts’ middle order and skittle them out for just 105 in their first innings.
The 32-year old is already a well-known figure in the Australian domestic circuit with 225 first-class wickets to his name, but his arrival at the international scene came quite late. O’Keefe made his debut against Sri Lanka in 2014 and with 14 wickets from four matches, he was not considered to be a major threat to the Indian batsman by most of the experts.
Shane Warne too had questioned the selectors’ logic on not picking leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson or left-arm spinner Ashton Agar ahead of O’Keefe after the eleven for the first Test was announced. “O’Keefe is the safe option because you know he’s not going to bowl much rubbish,” Warne said.
“You don’t see him as a huge danger with big-turning deliveries. He bowls tight. In these conditions, guys like Swepson and Agar could have been more of a danger option”, he added.
However, a closer look at O’Keefe and his preparation ahead of the tour will give a better idea behind his selection and the ensuing success.
O’Keefe didn’t skip any step while preparing for this series. First, he decided to drop out of the Sydney Sixers’ campaign early into this season’s Big Bash League. The spinner instead worked on his bowling in Dubai and sought help from veteran spinners like Rangana Herath and Monty Panesar on how to handle Indian conditions.
Panesar was an integral part of the England squad that defeated India at home in 2012 and was the perfect man to guide O’Keefe. According to Panesar, they worked on how to attack the batsman on turning tracks and the result of the training was quite apparent on Friday.
The left-arm bowler was able to generate a lot of turn to claim five wickets in just 19 balls and orchestrate the dramatic downfall India.
The other thing that worked wonders for O’Keefe was his experience with Australia A when they toured India in 2015. During the two-match unofficial Test series, O’Keefe had got the opportunity to bowl at Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara on a turning track in Chennai.
Australia A clinched the series 1-0 and O’Keefe was the leading wicket-taker for his team with 14 scalps at an average of 20 and an economy of 2.61. Armed with that experience, Smith went back to Dubai to work on his skills with experts who know what needs to be done to be successful in India. The product of that toil and homework showed on Friday when O’Keefe answered his critics with a majestic and probably match-winning haul.