Tracking the journey of Stephen O'Keefe
Steve O’Keefe grabbed a sensational 12-wicket match haul on a rank turner in Pune which helped Australia beat India by a whopping 333 runs and gain a 1-0 lead in the four-match series. This ended India’s 19 match unbeaten streak in Tests. Deservedly, O’Keefe received the Man of the Match award for the best figures ever for a visiting spinner in India.
The unheralded left arm spinner was a complete surprise package for everyone including the visitors as all eyes were on the more conventional off-spinner Nathon Lyon. Very few knew the credentials of O’Keefe before he wreaked havoc in the Indian camp with nagging accuracy and picked up six wickets in 6.1 overs spell to resuscitate his Test career.
Let us have a look at the journey of Stephen O’Keefe who came into the limelight after the magical spell against India.
Early Life and Domestic career
Stephen Norman John Keefe, aka Steve O’Keefe, was born on 9 December 1984 in Malaysia where his father was working for the air force. However, he returned home when he was very young and also went on to represent Australia in Under-19 World Cup in 2003-04
Steve O’Keefe made his first-class debut for New South Wales against Tasmania in 2005 season. He picked up two wickets in his first match at the domestic level. He became a crucial member of his side during the 2010-11 domestic season when New South Wales progressed to the final of Sheffield Shield tournament.
O’Keefe was so consistent in his performances that he was even made the leader of the pack when Simon Katich stood down early in the 2011-12 season. He later resigned from the position the very next year to focus on his own game.
Steve O’Keefe topped the charts in 2013-14 domestic season with 41 wickets at an average of 20.41. His first-class bowling average of 24.72 was far superior to the likes of Xavier Doherty and Ashton Agar.
Unlike most professional sportsmen, O’Keefe seems to be well aware of his limited shelf-life. The left arm spinner from New South Wales is a qualified P.E. teacher and for a time combined a job at his hometown school, Richmond High, with first-class cricket. He is also an ambassador for Northcott Disability Services.
Steve O’Keefe received his maiden International call-up to replace the injured Nathan Hauritz for the series against Pakistan in England. Unfortunately, he did not play any Tests as Australia preferred Steve Smith, then viewed as a leg-spinner more than a batsman, in the team.
His initial chances with the national side came in seven T20s during the course of 2010 and 2011. He performed decently in this period, only to be ignored by the selectors again. Though he started his international career in the shortest format of the game, the longer format had always been where he had given his best
He continued to play at first class level and finally after a couple of wonderful seasons where he unswervingly performed and scalped more wickets than his counterparts, was picked in the Australia’s Test squad to play against Pakistan in UAE in 2014.
Four games, four series
After a long-awaited call-up to the National side in Tests, the left-arm spinner made his debut in the first Test again Pakistan in Dubai. He was dropped for the second Test despite picking four wickets in the match and that was the end of the tour for Steve O’Keefe.
O’Keefe’s next chance came a year later in the third match of the series against West Indies at SCG. Luck was not on his side as this Test was marred by rain and only five sessions of play were possible in the match. Though, O’Keefe tried his best, picking three wickets.
Next was the tour of Sri Lanka and the orthodox bowler was picked alongside the regular member of the side, Nathan Lyon. O’Keefe was touted to be a major player for Aussies in this series with his left arm orthodox spin viewed as the team’s best answer to the threat of Rangana Herath.
Time had finally come for O’Keefe to showcase his talent and importance on surfaces which assist spinners. But again fortune did not favour the New South Welshman as he had to return home due to a hamstring injury after the first Test match.
Again after a long break, O’Keefe was included in the squad for the third and final Test against Pakistan at the iconic SCG, keeping in mind the tour of India. He had once again got the opportunity to prove himself at the highest level and he did well to scalp four wickets against few of the better players of spin bowling.
Steve O’Keefe’s career was hanging by a thread as he had played four games across four series in three years.
Withdrew from BBL to prepare for India
After Steve O’Keefe was named in the Australia Test squad for India, he pulled out of Big Bash League instantly. This was a conscious effort by Cricket Australia to put him under Test-specific physical preparation. Another reason to pull him out of BBL was his history of injuries. Time off from BBL kept him fit and ready for the tough tour to sub-continent.
O’Keefe returned to grade cricket to play more red ball cricket in the lead-up to the India tour. After all the struggles and injuries he had to go through in his career, the day finally arrived when it paid off.
Today, he has the best figures (12-70) by a visiting spinner in a Test in India.Published 28 Feb 2017, 14:13 IST