O'Keefe sets sights on national selection for Ashes series
LEFT-ARM spinner Stephen O'Keefe fielded as a substitute for Australia in the first Test of the MCC Spirit of Cricket Series against Pakistan at Lord's in 2010 and now he's determined to go back to the home of cricket and play against England as a member of Michael Clarke's team.
With the battle for the Ashes only a matter of months away, the 28-year-old yesterday stood down as NSW captain for their final two Sheffield Shield games to focus on his own game in an effort to push for national selection.
O'Keefe, who has played seven T20s for Australia, had captained the side since taking over from Simon Katich in October 2011.
Ben Rohrer will take over the captaincy duties, beginning with the clash against Victoria which starts at the MCG on Thursday.
Although O'Keefe is the leading Sheffield Shield spinner this summer, taking 17 wickets at 26.76, Nathan Lyon, Xavier Doherty, Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith were all preferred ahead of him as spin options for the current tour of India.
He is also averaging a handy 30.37 with the bat.
But he knows he's got a battle on his hands to get a go at the top especially after Aussie coach Mickey Arthur defended O'Keefe's omission from the tour party.
"It's very easy to ask those questions (why O'Keefe wasn't picked)," Arthur said.
"Stephen O'Keefe has got a really good record. Xavier Doherty bowled outstandingly well for us in the one-day series. Michael Beer would have been here if he didn't get injured.
"That caused us to reshuffle a little bit. We picked Xavier over Stephen primarily because we thought Xavier was bowling exceptionally well, which he was in the one-day series at that particular time."
Despite being overlooked for India, O'Keefe is going to great lengths to keep his name in front of selectors - he's even going to India after the Shield season ends to get a few pointers.
"India are the masters of spin. It's an experience I am looking forward to and hopefully will take my game to another level," O'Keefe said.
Meanwhile Queensland paceman Ryan Harris will get another chance to push for a national recall after he was named to play his first Shield game of an injury-hit season against Tasmania at the Gabba starting on Thursday.
Harris said while it was nice that he was being mentioned as a potential Australian player again, he still had a long way to go.
"Playing for Australia is still a goal, but I haven't played a Shield game yet this season," he said.
"At the moment I just want to win another Shield for Queensland, go and do my bit in the IPL, play some regular cricket and get stronger and stronger."