Steve O'Keefe – the man who stopped the Indian juggernaut

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Steve O'Keefe – the man who stopped the Indian juggernaut

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Bastab K Parida

02/25/2017

The world's best batsman is at the crease. India are 43/3 in their chase of a 400+ total in the fourth innings on a rank-turner, but when Virat Kohli is still around, there is always a hint of doubt in the minds of the opposition that the match is still not in their pockets safely.

Steve O' Keefe ambles in around the wicket, and pitches the ball on the line of the off-stump. Virat Kohli expects the delivery to turn away from him and shoulders confidently. But the ball instead keeps its line and slides straight on crashing into the stumps. Steve O' Keefe, until yesterday an unheard of name in India, just like that took out the last of India's hopes of an Eden Garden-esque comeback – with a straight delivery.

But it wasn't supposed to have been this way. This Indian team had been in marauding form since a long while – exactly since that defeat to Sri Lanka at the picturesque Galle. It wasn't supposed to end in this drab Pune arena.

South Africa- Check, New Zealand- check, England- check. Going into the series against Australia, India were on a 19-match unbeaten streak and everyone and his pet dog were not giving Australia the slightest of chances of winning one match in the series.

Two Steves, however, came together to script a magnificent performance for the visitors to end their 13-year drought to win a Test match in India and infuse real hope into dreams of conquering ‘the final frontier 2.0’. While Steven Smith’s performance was expected or at least not-so-surprising, it was Steve O’Keefe’s bowling performance – 12 wickets giving away 70 runs - that proved to be India’s undoing. 

The man is no one-day phenomenon though as he is made out to be. The machinations that led to this were set up by Australia long before they landed in India.

Although Indians are known to be the good players of spin, their struggles against quality left-arm spinners are pretty well-documented. In 2012-13, when England trampled India in India for the first time since David Gower’s side of 1984-85, Panesar grabbed 17 wickets at 26.82 and was the perfect ally to Graeme Swann. It was his 11 for 210 in Mumbai that helped transform the series in favour of the visitors after India had won the opening Test in Ahmedabad.

Monty obviously had the wisdom to share and Cricket Australia brought him on as consultant to help O’Keefe in the run-up to the series. O’Keefe, who represents Sydney Sixers in Big Bash League, was pulled out from the tournament so that he could concentrate on his bowling for the India series.

All that hardwork revealed itself in the Pune Test. While his much experienced Indian counterpart Ravindra Jadeja struggled to get into any sort of rhythm in the first innings, O’Keefe, on the other hand, bowled just over 13 overs and claimed six wickets. Both players bowled around the wicket as traditional slow left-arm orthodox spinners do, but while Jadeja kept the ball short in both the innings, O’Keefe varied his length a lot but kept a constant line.

 © ESPNcricinfo

Especially in the second innings when the pitch was doing their bidding, Jadeja was spinning the ball by miles, while O' Keefe looked at spinning it just enough while pitching it up and in the line of the stumps. That's what led to his haul of wickets.

O’Keefe, who was just a marginal selection in the team a year ago, has just enjoyed one of the best days of his life, and in the process, he has given a strong statement to the Indians for sure.

India now have a task at hand, but have little legroom unlike the previous opponents they faced. Apart from O' Keefe, Australia possess what the others did not have – a fast-bowling duo who can keep at it for long hauls -  Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood unlike the lone rangers that the Kiwis and the English brought here. Nathan Lyon appears to be the one weak link in this attack, but even he has proved capable of moping up the tail in double-quick time. It all depends on how India go about the series from here – rank-turners or five-day pitches? Whom to attack, and whom to play out? Meanwhile, they just have to pray that Virat Kohli's failure was one-off and not the end of the prophesied inevitable lean patch and also hope that David Warner does not find his feet too soon.

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