What’s wrong with Steve O’Keefe

The phrase, ‘lies, damn lies, and statistics’ can be taken too seriously. I talked recently about the hunch selections of the past, your Michael Vaughan/Marcus Trescothick type, but the point that also needs to be made is that statistics can tell a lot.

Take Steve O’Keefe, and let me reel off a list of stats. Career First-class average, 27.33, season First-class figures 17 wickets at 24.29, last three seasons (including current) 48 wickets at 27.66. Better career economy rate, strike rate and average than Nathan Lyon. Most wickets for a spinner in the Sheffield Shield two out of the last three seasons.

Yet, he has not played a Test match for Australia, yet a host of men with far worse records than him have. Why? What hunch did the selectors have to pick Xavier Doherty over him for the 2010/11 Ashes, and then now again for India? O’Keefe had 33 career wickets at 25.18 at that point, and took 4/88 against England for Australia A, whilst Doherty had 82 at 48.80. Yet Doherty got the nod, and ended up with an average of 102 for the two Tests he played.

So, when Doherty was dropped from the squad, surely O’Keefe had a chance at some point in the rest of the series? But no, a player with 16 wickets at 39.93 with a best of 3 for 39, Michael Beer, was called up for the final three Tests, and when he got a game at Sydney, took 1/112 in the match and was quickly discarded again.

The next Test Australia played was in Sri Lanka, and O’Keefe didn’t make the trip, Nathan Lyon, whose First-class record read 12 wickets at 43.00 before the tour began (compared to O’Keefe’s 52 at 24.05), got the chance. This time, the hunch paid off and Lyon took 5/34 in his First Test innings. So that’s the spinner’s slot sorted for the foreseeable future? Wrong, Lyon, while bowling well at times after that, seems to have dramatically lost his flight and loop which got him into the team in the first place.

This Australian summer his returns have been poor, both in Tests (19 wickets at 41.74) and Sheffield Shield ( 6 wickets at 68) and his place has started to be questioned. I already addressed this in a previous blog post, and I do believe that Lyon should be given time and the tour of India to try and regain his form.

O’Keefe should be the second of the spinners going to Australia. Xavier Doherty is just not a Test bowler. Yes, we don’t know if O’Keefe is, but it’s time to find out. Sure Australia could take another punt, take Adam Zampa, Cameron Boyce, since punts worked so well with or pick somebody out of grade cricket or the Futures League, but at some point the selection committee is going to have to cede to cold hard stats and give Steve O’Keefe a well earned chance. It’s several years overdue.

In the Cricket Sadist Hour, Jarrod Kimber put it that O’Keefe must have run over somebody’s pet to not have been picked, and now injury appears to have been added to insult, as O’Keefe has injured the webbing on his had from, causing him to miss the Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania, one match after taking an eight wicket match haul against Western Australia. Adam Zampa has taken his place as the spinner and will of course take ten wickets and an emergency call up to the India squad. That’s just O’Keefe’s luck.

Originally published on 6-Feb-2013

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