Steven Smith’s boys are just one step away from a unique record which no Australian team would like to have. Following the Mirpur debacle, another defeat at Chittagong will take Australia to No. 6 in the Test rankings – their all-time low since 1988. This team has lost 12 out of their last 14 Tests in Asia and currently staring at a series defeat against Bangladesh, which would arguably be the most embarrassing chapter in the history of Australian cricket.
Desperate times call for desperate measures so they replaced injured Josh Hazlewood with out of favour left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, who until last week would have thought, his cricketing career was all but over.
The Australian think-tank believes at Chittagong, to save humiliation, they have to be one-step ahead of the opposition by attacking the Bangladeshis right from the word go and on these dry wickets, spin is the best weapon to implement this strategy.
Back home, O’Keefe the 32-year old New South Wales left-arm spinner, who came into limelight after grabbing 19 wickets in four Tests in India earlier this year, including the match winning performance of 12 for 70 at Pune, has been facing a ban from his state association of late. O’Keefe was suspended his domestic side and fined $20,000 by Cricket New South Wales for making ‘highly offensive comments’ while intoxicated at the after-party following the Steve Waugh Medal presentation in April this year.
This was his second code of conduct breach within a year. In 2016, a $10,000 fine was imposed on him by NSW for verbally abusing police after he was refused entry to a Sydney pub.
Meanwhile, acknowledging the NSW ban, Cricket Australia denied him a contract for the 2017-18 season and picked Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson, overlooking O’Keefe from the Bangladesh-bound Test team. That was enough indication for the left-armer that the selectors wanted to look beyond him.
However, as they say – life never seized to amaze you.
Last week O’keefe was having dinner with one of his friends when he came to know from NSW’s talent manager David Freedman that the selectors are considering his name as a replacement of Hazlewood for the Chittagong Test. Within a few hours, he got the confirmation.
Life is giving O’Keefe a second chance.
The three-spinner strategy: A gamble?
It is not a regular sight that Australia going into a Test match with three genuine spin options. However, by bringing in a slow bowler in place of a pace bowler the Aussies are providing a clear indication of their thought process.
The three-spinner strategy is a double-edged sword for any captain. There is always a chance of one bowler being under-bowled. Also, considering the gloomy weather at Chittagong, pace bowling options are required to take advantage of the conditions and they have Jackson Bird in their ranks to join Pat Cummings.
But, Australian think-tank’s point of view is different. They believe, in these wet conditions, it will be hard for the pacers to extract reverse swing and without it, once the ball loses its shine and hardness there is little on offer for the quicks. So, playing two pacers won’t have much of impact.
Considering this, there is a high chance of O’Keefe coming into the frame of schemes as a third spinner and his inclusion seems logical as well.
O’keefe has the ability to bowl from a low release point and skid the ball into a batter’s pads, as well as spin it away from right-handers. He can straightaway take the new ball which makes him appear a more potent threat than the young leg-spinner Swepson.
“Once we get there we will take a look at the wicket and the conditions and whether we change that or go with one quick or two quicks or three spinners. It really comes down to what we want to set our side up like for the second Test, and the wicket,” before arriving at Chittagong, Australian coach Darren Lehmann made it clear that the three spinners strategy is well in contention.
On Saturday, the Australian team had a practice session at Chittagong and skipper Smith had a look at the wicket. Following that O’Keefe was seen bowling for a long period at the nets.
Don’t think we need a rocket scientist to understand the circumstances.
Yes, playing three spinners against an Asian team is always a gamble but considering the current scenario, this seems to be a risk worth taking for the Aussies, as they have a Test match to win.