Steve O’Keefe was instrumental in helping Australia record one of the most famous test victories in recent times but hosts India have been quick to put their heavy defeat down to the pitch in Pune rather than the 32-year-old spinner’s performance.
Indian batsmen have built a reputation for their prowess against the turning ball over the years but left-armer O’Keefe shattered that aura as Australia bulldozed the world’s top ranked test team inside three days.
O’Keefe’s 12-wicket match haul, the best figures recorded by a visiting spinner on Indian soil, earned him the man-of-the-match award but little else in terms of praise from the vanquished hosts.
India captain Virat Kohli blamed his side’s twin batting collapses on their recklessness, while others felt the turning track had backfired on them.
Out-of-favour off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who has had several run-ins with Australian players, said he was not convinced by O’Keefe’s performance and would need to see him in action on a better track.
“I will have to see (O’Keefe) bowl on a good test match wicket. Not this one,” the 36-year-old, who had predicted a 4-0 series defeat for Australia, told reporters. “Until then, I will reserve my comments.”
O’Keefe and off-spinner Nathan Lyon combined to claim all 10 Indian wickets in the second innings to skittle out the hosts for 107, two more runs than they managed in the first, at a venue making its test debut.
“To be honest, that wasn’t a pitch,” Singh, a veteran of 103 tests, said of the surface used for the series opener.
“Test cricket should last five days. You cannot play on such wickets where anyone runs in to bowl and takes wickets. I have played in over 100 tests, and I know how hard I had to work to earn every single wicket.”
All O’Keefe had to do was to bowl faster through air and be accurate, Singh said.
“You don’t need to flight the ball or anything. You just need to bowl fast and not give the batsmen room to either come down the track, or be able to manoeuvre the ball around.
“Bowling six deliveries in the same spot is all you need to get wickets on such tracks,” he added.
Former coach Ravi Shastri also felt O’Keefe was richly rewarded for his accuracy against the leaden-footed Indian batsmen.
“Steve O’Keefe was controlled and accurate while his preys looked for spin which wasn’t always there,” the former test batsman wrote in a column that appeared in Monday’s Times of India newspaper.
“They invariably ended up playing wrong lines. They didn’t use their feet much either … It’s an issue which can’t be left pending even on fair tracks as even they would scruff up in second innings.
“Indians must find a way to break O’Keefe’s rhythm,” added Shastri.