Australia going into a Test match with two spinners is something that is very
rare even in the subcontinent. The last occasion they toured Sri Lanka in 2011,
the only spinner in their eleven for the three-Test series was off-spinner
Nathan Lyon who is expected to spearhead his country’s spin department once
again in the upcoming Test series.
Angelo Mathews ready to bat
However the performance of left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe in the 3-day practice
game at the P Sara Oval and Sri Lanka’s depleted fast bowling stocks (through
injury) has convinced the Australian team management that the best way to go
about on bone dry Lankan pitches is to have a double spin attack. The
Australians line of thinking is that Sri Lanka with their top fast-medium
bowlers out of action would concentrate on preparing spin-oriented pitches to
suit spinners Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera.
So there is a likelihood of Australia adding O’Keefe into their bowling line-up
to partner Lyon.
Australian coach Darren Lehmann has all-but confirmed in Cricket Australia’s
official website that Australia will play two spinners in the first Test at
Pallekele after the left-armer’s star performance.
“I think we would probably be leaning towards two spinners the way conditions
are,” Lehmann told CA. O’Keefe pressed for a Test place with a match-winning
bowling performance against a Sri Lanka Board President’s XI taking 10 wickets
for 64 runs in less than 20 overs and to convince that he was no ordinary
tailender contributed a useful 78 not out which was the highest individual score
of the match.
If he is picked for the Pallekele Test it will be O’Keefe’s third Test in just
over two years. His previous two Test appearances has been against Pakistan at
Dubai in 2014 and against West Indies at Sydney in January 2016..
“We know what we’re going to get with him,” Lehmann said of the 31-year-old
left-arm spinner. “He’s been excellent for New South Wales and had a lot of
success in (Sheffield) Shield.
“He’s worked really hard, he’s a lively, buzzing-around character for us and
played exactly the role we wanted him to play here in this game (at P Sara
Oval). “He bats really well, fields really well and complements Nathan with
spinning (the ball) the other way. We think that’s the way to go,” Lehmann told
CA indicating that O’Keefe presents not only a reliable, proven option but one
that – on the strength of his tour game form this week – looms as a match
winner. Australia has been rather diffident towards playing left-arm spinners in
their line-up. Tom Hogan who toured Sri Lanka with Greg Chappell’s team in 1983
and played a key role in Australia’s innings victory in the one-off Test at
Asgiriya stands out as the last to serve Australia as a specialist left-arm
spinner for more than half a dozen Tests.
On his Test debut Hogan took five wickets for 66 runs in the second innings at
Asgiriya bowling in tandem with off-spinner Bruce Yardley. The pair took 13 of
the 20 wickets to fall in the match.