Steve O'Keefe: Pink ball unsustainable on Indian pitches

"If it’s these sort of wickets (in India), I think it would be quite hard with the pink ball in it’s present form. It does roughen, gets scuffed up pretty easily and changes colour," Australia left-arm spinner Steve O' Keefe said in an exclusive chat on his visit to the MRF Pace Foundation ahead of his team's Sri Lanka tour.

Steve O' Keefe at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai.   -  M. Vedhan

When Steve O’Keefe, training at the MRF Pace Foundation here, says Brad Hogg is doing a “Benjamin Button” and “draws inspiration” from Rangana Herath, it shows how positive he feels about his longevity. Especially, at 31, when it looks like he might get to play only his third Test in Australia’s upcoming Test series in Sri Lanka.

The left-arm spinner took time for a brief chat albeit amid cursory peeks at the practice match his peers were playing at the Pachaiyappa’s college ground. He spoke of his experience in India, his return from injury, and had his say on the new colour of discussion in cricket - pink.

On whether the ‘A’ tour in India last year helped his case for a place in the Australia team: The selectors certainly look at performances here in India. It’s very hard to win a game of cricket here. Indians at home are very hard to beat. They play spin very well, they know their conditions well, and they have class players. So, to come over here and win, like we were able to do (last year), was something remarkable. The tour served as a benchmark for players like Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Bancroft, and has certainly catapulted them."

On how he, as a left-arm finger spinner, tries to bowl in the sub-continental conditions: As a finger spinner, you’re not going to be a big spinner of the ball. I’m not tall, so I’m not going to get the ball bounce much either. So, I try to be as accurate as possible; to try and bowl middle to off-stump with pace variations.

On how different is it to bowl spin in India: I’ve watched the local spinners here and see that you need to be quicker through the air, bowl more around the seam, and get the ball to skid. So, those are the things one needs to focus when bowling spin here.

On his experience with the ‘pink’ ball (He has good figures with the pink ball in Sheffield shield cricket): With the pink ball, I guess the benefit for the spinners is it’s harder for the batsmen to pick the seam on the ball. When it’s in full flight, they can’t see the seam and thus can’t know which way the revolutions are on it; like, whether it’s a square spinner, or over the top, or cross-seam. At least that’s the feedback I get from the batsmen. I think it has helped me to have a bit of success in that regard. The first pink ball Test in Australia was a huge success. I think that’s a start. There are ways in which the ball can be improved for certain. If it is kept improving, I think it’ll certainly be around to stay.

On how the 'pink' could be improved: The main area to work on is to try and help the ball not to deteriorate quickly. I think the idea should be to get it to move like the red ball; to get it as close to the red ball as possible. As of now, with the pink ball, the twilight hours could be quite hard to bat in, as it can swing more under lights, and if you’re playing on a grassy wicket it tends to do a bit more.

On whether the 'pink' ball is sustainable in sub-continental conditions: If it’s these sort of wickets (in India), I think it would be quite hard with the pink ball in it’s present form. It does roughen, gets scuffed up pretty easily and changes colour. Play gets difficult once the pink fades. The current ball has to be modified if one wants it to last in these conditions. The wear and tear of the pitches here will take a fair bit out of the ball. I’m not sure if the SG ball (the Test ball brand used in India) behaves differently. But I don’t think it would last here in its current form.

On Rangana Herath and the upcoming Test series in Sri Lanka: Herath is a classy player. He’s got 300 Test wickets. I love watching him bowl. There are a lot of things you can take from watching him bowl and I try to adapt them to my own game. I think left-arm finger spinners can be quite effective, particularly in Sri Lanka, given what Herath has done. I’ll try my level best and learn by watching the opposition spinners bowl.

On his return from a finger injury: I certainly pride on how I’ve improved my fitness in the last four months. I had my finger broken in mid-February. So, I haven’t played since. I had access to good training facilities in Brisbane that’s got me started again.

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