Spinner Steve O’Keefe could finally be given a chance at Test cricket after being named in Australia’s squad to play Pakistan in the UAE in October. O’Keefe was named as part of a 15-man Test squad that also includes allrounder Mitchell Marsh, who is yet to make his Test debut, while Phillip Hughes was included as the backup batsman and Glenn Maxwell as a spin-bowling allrounder.
However, Australia’s major selection issue could be yet to come, with captain Michael Clarke still recovering from the hamstring injury that forced him home from the one-day series in Zimbabwe. Clarke has been named in the squad and with six weeks until the first Test in Dubai, he has time on his side, but the increasing frequency of his hamstring injuries makes him far from a certainty.
The incumbent No.3 Alex Doolan retained his place in the squad despite not fully making the position his own during the tour of South Africa earlier this year. His main rival for a place in the side will be Hughes, who is in strong form after a winter spent mostly with Australia A but will travel to the UAE early to work on his batting against spin with coaching consultant Muttiah Muralitharan.
There is also the possibility that Australia could choose Marsh as a second all-round option alongside Shane Watson, although including both in the XI would risk unbalancing the side. Marsh will also depart for the UAE with strong recent form behind him, and not just from the one-day series in Zimbabwe; he and Hughes both made first-class double-centuries for Australia A this winter.
Marsh’s chances of playing alongside Watson might increase if the selectors wanted two spinners on the turning pitches in the UAE, in which case debutant O’Keefe could join Nathan Lyon. O’Keefe, 29, has long been overlooked by Australia’s selectors despite his strong statistical record at domestic level, but he was the only logical selection for this trip after topping the Sheffield Shield wicket tally last summer with 41 victims at 20.43.
A left-arm orthodox bowler and useful lower-order batsman, O’Keefe would be the 14th spinner to play Test cricket for Australia since Shane Warne if he makes his debut in the UAE. He could be considered unfortunate to have been that far down the list given his first-class record of 128 wickets at 24.72, which is superior to several of his predecessors including fellow left-armers Xavier Doherty, Michael Beer and Ashton Agar.
O’Keefe’s only previous international experience has come in the Twenty20 side, when he played seven matches from 2010 to 2011. However, he will have to compete with Maxwell for the position as second spinner behind Lyon after Maxwell was included having not played Test cricket since Australia’s ill-fated tour of India early last year.
“We have picked Steve O’Keefe as the extra spinner for the Test tour,” national selector Rod Marsh said. “We are unsure what pitch conditions we will encounter in the UAE but we need to be prepared to play two spinners. Steve was the highest wicket-taker in the Sheffield Shield last season and we are confident he can perform at the next level.
“Glenn [Maxwell] is a talented allrounder who enjoys playing on dry pitches. Phil [Hughes] has been in excellent form and has been rewarded with a place in the Test squad. His attitude to his game has been first rate and he thoroughly deserves this opportunity.
“Mitch Marsh is a player of immense talent and is a bright prospect for the future of Australian cricket. His form with Australia A has been fantastic and he carried that through to the recent Zimbabwe tour. If he gets his opportunity, we know he will make the most of it.”
A 14-man one-day international squad was also chosen for the three matches against Pakistan, with uncapped New South Wales allrounder Sean Abbott the most notable inclusion. Abbott, 22, topped the Ryobi Cup wicket tally last summer with 16 victims at 20.93 and after a solid Sheffield Shield season as well, he won the Steve Waugh Medal as his state’s best player for 2013-14.
Abbott and David Warner, who had missed the recent tri-series for paternity leave, were the only inclusions from outside the group who toured Zimbabwe, along with Watson, who was originally named but was forced out through an ankle injury. Hughes was left out of the ODI squad despite his solid form in the tri-series, while Ben Cutting and Kane Richardson were also dropped.
Abbott has also been included in the squad for the one-off T20 in Dubai that opens the tour. Australia’s first T20 squad under new captain Aaron Finch features the uncapped legspinner Cameron Boyce, while fast bowler Pat Cummins has also been named and could play his first international for two years.
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