The spinners in the Australian domestic set-up need more help in order to become successful while touring the subcontinent, feels Steve O’Keefe. A day after announcing his first-class retirement, O’Keefe said the spinners need more assistance from the pitches in Australia and also the teams need to show more confidence in them rather than fixating on pace bowlers and seamer-friendly wickets.
“We have so much talent in this country, spin-bowling depth. I look across at the top two spinners in each state that I really think there’s so much quality. The problem is that they aren’t being encouraged enough to be given a ball in the first ten overs and being told to win a game of cricket. The conditions haven’t allowed them to express themselves,” said O’Keefe. “We promote the Dukes ball. In the game at the moment you could pick four quicks and if you had to pick an all-rounder you could pick a medium pacer and still do well – you’d win with that team, with no spinner, which to me is a shock.”
Ever since registering a 2-1 series victory against India in India in 2004, Australia have toured India four times and have lost the series on each occasion. For Australia to succeed there, O’Keefe stressed on the need for spin-friendly tracks that will encourage the likes of Mitchell Swepson and Ashton Agar to challenge Nathan Lyon.
“If we really want to challenge India, which is the final frontier and win a series in India, and four or five other Test nations to beat them in their conditions, we’re going to have to start promoting it at home,” said the 34-year-old, who finished with 301 wickets in his first-class career. “I want to see guys like Swepson, Agar really push Nathan Lyon in that Australian team. He’s the next level but we have to start looking forward to the next generation and I think we can promote it more at home.
“When you want to win overseas, spinners are the ones who have to win you games. But go back and have a look at Shield cricket. I’m the leading wicket-taker this year with 16 wickets and played five games. I’ve not had a match-winning role in any of the games. When you go to these places, it’s all on your spinners; they have got to be people who are mentally tough and have the skill. It is a matter of urgency, if we are going to win over there to make sure we encourage these guys.
“If we want to get good at beating teams on the subcontinent we need to keep improving; it [Sheffield Shield] has become really stagnant. We use this Duke ball for the back end of the year and it becomes a bit mundane. We should keep trying to improve the standard of first-class cricket. I’m going to be biased towards the spinners. We can do that by scarifying wickets, we can do that by playing in regional venues – force each state to play a game in a regional venue, it has so many upsides, not just for the community but you get to play on slower wickets that might invite more spin.”
O’Keefe, who will continue playing the Big Bash League for Sydney Sixers, said he’s willing to help the spinners – even if it isn’t in an official capacity.
“If there’s any spinner out there, anyone willing to pick up the phone and say ‘I’d like to work with you’, I’d tell a 10-year-old the same thing I’d tell a 25 year-old playing cricket. The game in my eyes is that simple; I’m willing to give that time to anyone for nothing. I just love spin bowling and the game of cricket. I think I have a different narrative to tell to a lot of people: I could barely spin a ball, so I have it from a different lens so if people want to hear that then I’d love to do it.”