Aussies must ‘get serious’ on spin
AUSTRALIA are playing a dangerous game by creating a spin-bowling wilderness behind Nathan Lyon.
That is the view of former Test spinner Stephen O'Keefe, who has warned selectors they must start giving slow bowlers more opportunities or risk the long-term consequences on overseas tours.
O'Keefe says he is likely to retire from first-class cricket at the end of this season, but has plans to continue on in the Big Bash League, after he helped announce that the Sydney Sixers will take a match to Coffs Harbour on January 5.
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Australian selectors rolled the dice and elected not to take a second spinner to England for the recent Ashes series, keen to maximise the flexibility and depth of the squad in other areas.
In the end, Australia got away with the gamble when Lyon overcame injury concerns to play in the fifth Test but O'Keefe, a veteran of nine Tests for Australia, admits he has serious concerns over the lack of development that has been put into young spinners below the country's clear No.1, Lyon - particularly with a tour of Bangladesh locked in for next year.
"I was a bit surprised actually that Jon Holland (Victorian) didn't get the opportunity (for the Ashes)," said O'Keefe.
"They go to South Africa and they've taken a second spinner as cover for Nathan but on this one, which is a longer Test series, they don't bother with it.
"I think they've done so well with Gazza (Lyon), I'm not even sure they're interested in trying to prepare or give a second guy some opportunities.
"If they want to get serious about it they're going to have some big tours in India and the subcontinent coming up over the next couple of years, and they're going to have to start preparing guys and maybe even some wickets at home that might be a bit more conducive to spin."
It was confirmed last week Australia will play two Tests in Bangladesh next year. The Aussies will likely need more than one spinner - and up to three - for such tours on the spin-friendly decks.
O'Keefe was a late call-up for the corresponding tour of Bangladesh two years ago after selectors realised after one Test that they needed more spinning options. Australia had to fight to draw that series.
O'Keefe is adamant a dearth of talent in the spin ranks is not to blame.
"I think the talent is there, it just needs to be looked after a bit better than what it is," he said.
"A bit more communication from the top down. I don't think they've done that well enough if we're being brutally honest.
"Jon Holland has performed really, really well at domestic level over a couple of years now. He's a standout. But then I really like what Lloyd Pope has got. He's got a beautiful turning leggie, a great wrong-un.
"Then I'd be looking at Agar again. I know we pick him and he's in and out but I think with another year's experience under his belt, he's another really good four-day option."
O'Keefe, 34, says part of the reason he is thinking this will be his last year for NSW at Sheffield Shield level is because he doesn't want to hold back emerging players like Dan Fallins at the Blues.
But the Big Bash is firmly in his long-term plans and O'Keefe is excited about the chance to take a game to Coffs Harbour, where the Sixers will face Adelaide in the new year.
"The new facility in Coffs is world class to be honest. It's a beautiful part of the world and there's a lot of cricket fans up here," he said.
"It's pretty exciting to be able to move the game out of Sydney. I think when you play at these little country towns or not inner city grounds you get a more animated crowd. And I feel they get a better game because they're a bit more on top of you."