Steve O'Keefe's inclusion sets an eye on the future
With the series already decided, and the depleted picture of their opponents not showing any signs of improvement, Australia have decided to look towards the future, the first signs of which are seen through the inclusion of the left-arm orthodox spinner Steve O’Keefe in the playing XI.
The eyes are now set on the upcoming endeavours in the subcontinent – which includes a Test series against Sri Lanka this year – a place that demands a change of plans in the line-up that for the past few years has contained five batsmen, one all-rounder, three pacers, and one spinner.
When O’Keefe takes to the field at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on January 3, it would be the first time that Australia would field a spin duo since the time Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill worked in tandem at the venue.
South Africa’s depleting fortune over the past year and the English resurgence turned into dominance in the series against them means that the Aussies have a clear shot at the No.1 Test ranking, should the results turn in their favour.
That, and Peter Siddle’s ankle niggles that ruled him out of the New Year Test paved the way for the spinner, as elucidated by the captain Steve Smith. "His ankle still isn't 100%," Smith said.
"He felt it wasn't best for him to come into this Test match the way he is at the moment. He's going to have a rest for a couple of weeks I think and, hopefully, get himself right for New Zealand.”
“But we're happy with the side and the two spinners, we think it's going to turn and we're ready to go. It's going to spin and it gives us an opportunity now to see Steven and see how he goes.”
Hailing Nathan Lyon as the country’s No.1 spinner, Smith called the SCG Test as an opportunity for O’Keefe to cement his place as the side’s second spinner.
"Obviously, we've got a tour of Sri Lanka coming up where two spinners is a pretty good possibility. Nathan Lyon has done a terrific job for Australia since [O'Keefe] has been playing. He's an experienced player now and he's our No.1 spinner.”
“I think everyone around the country knows that, including Stephen. He's got an opportunity now to become the second spinner."
Now that the no.1 spot is up for grabs, should we not see a South Africa revival, the skipper feels it would be a ‘huge motivation’ for his side to do well and strive for it.
"Huge motivation," Smith said. "That's what we want to do, to be No. 1 in all three formats, we're working extremely hard to get there.”
Riding high on a successful home season this summer, the 25-year-old highest Test runs-aggregator for 2015 realised that the litmus test for his side, or any side for that matter, would be when they travel abroad.
"That's one of the biggest ways we're going to be judged - how we play away from home. It's a big challenge for us in New Zealand but I'm confident if we continue playing the way we are, hopefully, we can have a lot of success over there."
About his own form, and a few technical glitches that he faced at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) during the last Test of 2015, even though he was ahead of anyone else in the format, he had this to say, “I felt pretty good last week. it was nice to just spend a bit of time in the middle again. All of my movements and my swing and everything were back in sync.”
“I went back and looked a bit of footage before the Melbourne Test and noticed my bat face was a little bit closed. I was looking at footage from last summer actually, where I was scoring a lot of runs, and I think last week I got my bat face back to where I wanted it to be and everything felt really good. Hopefully, I can score a few more this week."
Australia play West Indies in the third and the final Test of the Frank-Worell Trophy 2015-16, with the series already in their pockets with an unassailable lead of 2-0.
The third day of the aforementioned Test will be observed as Jane McGrath day, as has been the tradition for the past seven years, in the memory of the departed soul of Jane, wife of the legendary bowler, Glenn McGrath, who has been raising funds to mitigate breast cancer through the McGrath Foundation.