Aussie spinner Steve O’Keefe celebrates the wicket of India’s Ajinkya Rahane in Pune on Saturday. Pic/PTI
There is no better sight for Ashley Mallett than to see a young spinner working his way to the top. Eighteen months ago, the former Australian off-spin stalwart met Steve O’Keefe at the Gabba in Brisbane. In less than an hour, they were both talking spin at the nets.
Not that the session alone helped left-arm spinner O’Keefe demolish India in Pune on Saturday, but his match figures of 12 for 70 only reinforced what Mallett has been saying even before the first ball was bowled on Australia’s current tour to India — that O’Keefe will be a bigger force for Australia than spin spearhead Nathan Lyon. “Lyon is better on harder wickets which have better bounce, but on the sub-continent he is very ordinary,” Mallett told mid-day last December.
On Saturday, Adelaide-based Mallett was over the moon. “I am so happy for Steve. He is a very hardworking bloke and his hunger to succeed has earned him great success,” he said.
Mallett revealed what they spoke at the Brisbane nets. “Steve said he didn’t spin the ball a lot and I told him not to worry about that because he reminded me of Sri Lankan spinner Rangana Herath, who doesn’t spin it too much, but mixes his pace in a subtle fashion which works for him,” said Mallett. O’Keefe did the hard yards and worked his “b**t off”, according to Mallett.
“I backed Steve to get wickets on the last tour to Sri Lanka, but unfortunately he got injured. He was simply too good against India in Pune. It was good to see him bowl fuller to the Indian batsmen. Normally, the Australians bowl short, but this time, it was the reverse — the Indians bowled shorter and did not get much success in the process.”
While Mallett, Sri Lanka’s spin consultant a few years ago, said that O’Keefe reminded him of Herath, O’Keefe revealed on television on Saturday that he had discussions with the Lankan veteran who emphasised the need to challenge the batsmen’s defence.
Australia’s Steve O’Keefe (L) jumps in air as he celebrates with teammate Mitchell Marsh. Pic/PTI
O’Keefe is now second on the list of top bowling performances by a visiting bowler in India after Ian Botham’s 13 for 106 in the BCCI’s Golden Jubilee Test contested between India and England at the Wankhede Stadium in 1980. O’Keefe’s fellow New South Welshman Alan Davidson claimed 12 for 124 at Kanpur in 1959-60.
Malaysia-born O’Keefe hailed his spin partner Lyon while talking to reporters on Saturday. “Nathan and I enjoy bowling together, we’ve done it for a long time. We’ve done it unsuccessfully and we’ve done it successfully. The best thing about Nathan is that he takes that in his stride and we’re willing to communicate in how we can improve and we do that throughout the match.”