Australia XI named for 1st Test against Sri Lanka, Stephen O'Keefe earns recall
The playing XI for the first Test against Sri Lanka starting in Kandy on Tuesday was named by Australia captain Steven Smith at a press conference on Monday at Pallekele Stadium. Smith said that two spinners will be played in the team owing to expectations of a dry surface. Stephen O’ Keefe, who has only played 2 Tests in his career, has been named in the team to bowl alongside Nathan Lyon.
The Pallekele wicket remains covered at the moment, with the chance of rain looming over the next few days. With cloud cover and residual moisture lingering, it cannot be ruled out that a third seamer will be drafted into the team at the last moment, but according to the recent announcement, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will be Australia’s only pace bowlers, with Mitchell Marsh as a third seam bowling option.
The 31-year-old Malaysian-born O’Keefe is one of the most reputed spinners in Australian domestic cricket, but missed his chance to grab his international opportunity when it was offered to him in 2014. His 204 first-class scalps at an average of 23.51 has come at a much better rate than Nathan Lyon (avg 36.6), and other spinners like Fawad Ahmed (avg 31.1) and Ashton Agar (avg 42.3).
With a ten-wicket haul and scoring 78 not out in the tour match against a Sri Lankan XI in the lead up to the 1st Test, there could be no way to keep the left arm finger spinner out of the side. No player has missed out on the 1st Test of a recent series after having these figures in the practice match preceding it – 5/43, 78*, 5/21.
He has a decent record with the bat as well, with an average only 2 runs below Mitchell Marsh’s 30, and has an especial liking for spin bowling – something that should stand him in good stead in Lanka country.
Meanwhile, David Warner has been deemed fit to be named in the playing XI. He missed the practice match because of a thumb injury, but will come back into the team in place of Shaun Marsh for the 1st Test, with special protection on the injured thumb.
AUSTRALIA XI: David Warner (vc), Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Steve O'Keefe, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon