On his comeback to bowling for the first time in five months, Blues spinner Stephen O’Keefe has played a starring role for Australia A on the first day of their second tour match against South Africa A.
While honours were likely shared by the sides after South Africa progressed to 5/220, O’Keefe and fellow Blues paceman Gurinder Sandhu captured all of their sides wickets, finishing with figures of 2/40 (21) and 3/60 (20) respectively.
Of particular importance was O’Keefe’s second wicket, taken in the penultimate over of the day, when he set up South Africa A skipper Justin Ontong (86) with five dots, before a quicker, straighter delivery undid his defence and led to a sharp catch at silly mid-on.
O’Keefe, last season’s leading wicket taker in the Shield competition with 41 wickets at 20.43, bowled with skill and patience on his return to play and drew praise from Sandhu.
“He was ready to go last night I reckon," Sandhu told cricket.com.au
"I don't think he would have slept, but it was good to see him out there having fun and grab a couple of wickets to finish off the day.
"He likes to support everyone, he's there for the team and he puts his body on the line in the field.
"With the bowling, he'll go all day and then just like that he'll get his reward because he just knows what to do."
Sandhu himself was equally impressive, with his three scalps building from his strong return in the first tour match. After starting the winter preseason training with the National Performance Squad at the National Cricket Centre, he moved to replace fellow Blues quick Josh Hazlewood in the Australia A squad following injury.
The 21-year-old, winner of the Steve Waugh Medal in 2012/13, extracted some bounce from an otherwise flat track, crediting his time at the MRF Pace Academcy in Chennai last year with helping prepare him for the challenge.
“The wickets were pretty flat and low where we trained,” Sandhu explained to cricket.com.au.
“That gave me an insight into the wickets here, stick on that one length, have your fields set with a nice simple plan and just build the dots.”