PUNE: If you aren’t sure which way to go in India, take left! After Monty Panesar for England in 2012, Australia found a left-arm spinner to beat Indians in their own game. Unknown to cricket followers in these parts, Steve O’Keefe orchestrated the most astounding Indian collapse on home soil in recent memory.
Ironically for the true Blue, O’Keefe credited an Indian after returning career-best figures of 6/32. It was in Chennai in 2015 playing for Australia A that he came in touch with Sridharan Sriram, who was hired by Cricket Australia to help their spinners. The former opener, who played eight ODIs and bowled part-time left-arm spin, is with the Australia team for this series as well.
“Sri has been the biggest influence. I worked with him in Chennai in the A series. When I come on the field, I speak to him. Being a local, he knows the conditions. I spend time bowling with him. He understands how to bowl in these conditions and how the batters are thinking. He has been the biggest help along with the other coaching staff,” said Australia’s unlikely hero, whose third spell of 4.1-1-5-6 perhaps determined which way this Test is headed.
Given the new ball ahead of Josh Hazlewood, the spinner from New South Wales playing his fifth Test made least impression early on. Despite getting turn, he struggled with length and it appeared that batsmen were happy playing him rather than Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc from the other end. O’Keefe realised something was wrong and came onto the field with Sriram during lunch to sort it out.
“I was in my comfort zone, bowling too full or quick in the first spell. Working with Sri at lunch helped. It’s nice to see a spinning wicket. You don’t see it too often in Australia. But you know that on a wicket like that, spinners have to carry a lot of workload. We had a good day, but a lot more has to be done to win this Test,” added the 32-year-old playing his fifth Test.
O’Keefe noted that the experience of bowling in Chennai two years ago helped him find out what works in these conditions. Bowling wide of crease to get drift on that tour, he had taken 14 wickets in two four-day games against India A. He used that ploy to good effect on Friday.
“It was a quality outfit, with Karun Nair, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat, Kohli. Getting used to conditions on and off the field helps,” said the first ‘Made in India’ spinner who made Indians eat humble pie.