Left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, who recently retired from first-class cricket after being snubbed by New South Wales in their contracts list, said that Australia’s outlook towards spin bowling must change rapidly if they want to win matches in the subcontinent on a more consistent basis.
O’Keefe said that talent has never been an issue in Australia, but the importance given to spinners, who he said are at present barely viewed as match-winners must change, and that change must come from the domestic first-class competition, the Sheffield Shield.
“We have so much talent in this country. I look across at the top two spinners in each state that I really think there’s so much quality,” O’Keefe said. “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.
“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. If we really want to win a series in India, which is the final frontier, then we have to start providing [conditions] at home. I want to see guys like [Mitchell] Swepson, [Ashton] 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.”
O’Keefe himself is willing to drive that change by offering his assistance to youngsters, even if it’s not in an official capacity. “It doesn’t have to be an official role. I’ve already spoken to a couple of spinners at New South Wales,” he said. “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.”