Mitch Marsh & Steven O’Keefe selected in Test squad

Date: September 8, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Mitch Marsh’s blistering form in the ODI series in Zimbabwe and Steven O’Keefe’s consistent domestic first-class form has seen both rewarded with berths in the 15-man Test squad to play Pakistan in the UAE next month.

Skipper Michael Clarke has been included in the squad pending him proving he is over the hamstring complaint that cut short his participation in Zimbabwe.

Twenty-two year-old Marsh has been on the selectors’ radar for quite some time but a combination of injury and off-field misdemeanours have until now stunted his development.

The all-rounder made his debut for Australia in a T20 against South Africa in October 2011, four days before his 20th birthday having already become WA’s youngest debutant in more than 70 years as a 17-year-old.

Stress fractures in his back severely limited his bowling in the past two years while alcohol related incidents over the same period saw him separately lose his scholarship at CA’s Centre of Excellence and serve a suspension for WA.

Over the past three weeks in Zimbabwe he clearly showed why the selectors have been so enamoured with him.

An 83-ball innings of 89 against Zimbabwe was followed by a staggering 51-ball knock of 86 against South Africa, during which he became the first batsman in international cricket to club Dale Steyn for three consecutive sixes.

Marsh is also handy with the ball, possessing the ability to nudge the 140km/h barrier.

His 38 first-class matches to date have produced 56 wickets at 26.9.

O’Keefe is at shorter odds however to make his Test debut..

The 29-yrar-old’s name has long been bandied around by cricket fans who believe he has been hard done by.

In recent times the selectors have awarded debuts to three other left-arm orthodox bowlers – Ashton Agar, Michael Beer and Xavier Doherty – all of whom have inferior first-class records to O’Keefe.

Last season he topped the Sheffield Shield wicket-takers list with 41 scalps at 20.4 to take his career record to 128 wickets at 24.7.

He is also a capable lower-order batsman with six-half centuries and a first-class average of 27.8.

Able to extract considerable turn and possessing a keen mastery of flight he will provide the perfect counterbalance to Nathan Lyon’s offies.

The pitches in the UAE will certainly have the selectors angling towards two slow men.

O’Keefe’s competition for a spot will come from Glenn Maxwell.

Four years O’Keefe’s junior he has already played two Tests – on the tour of India in 2012-13 – and has notched up 50 international short form appearances.

There is no doubting that O’Keefe is the superior bowler and being a left-armer he should be the first cab off the rank to support Lyon.

The fascination in the batting line-up is twofold.

Firstly, there is Clarke’s fitness.

He is by no means a guaranteed starter.

If he is ruled out it may well be that the incumbent number three Alex Doolan and the once again recycled Phil Hughes both get to play.

However, if Clarke is ready to go, only one of that pair will play with David Warner and Chris Rogers to open and Shane Watson and Steve Smith to bat at four and six.

Doolan was unable to nail down the number three spot in South Africa where his debut series produced 186 runs at 31.0 across the three Tests.

His 89 in the second innings of his maiden Test showed he has the goods to succeed at the highest level especially given the quality of the attack – Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.

For Hughes, time is surely running out to finally secure a long term spot in the Test line-up.

He has been in and out of the side numerous times in his 26-Test career.

It started in a blaze of glory when in his second match he peeled off twin hundreds at Durban to become the youngest player in history to achieve the feat.

However, after 26 Tests his average is a mere 32.6.

Spin has proved to be an Achilles heel and not surprisingly the selectors have chosen to send him to the Emirates ahead of the rest of the squad to work in the nets with CA spin consultant Muttiah Muralitharan.

On the bowling front the selectors continue to be hamstrung with Ryan Harris and James Pattinson still recovering from injury and Pat Cummins being chosen for the T20 encounters as he continues his path back to Test ranks.

Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc have been named as the three specialist quicks with Watson and Marsh available as back-up.

The two-Test series looms as an important one for the Aussies.

The opponent is an enigmatic one with very much a Jekyll and Hyde-like personality.

Whilst Pakistan may currently sit sixth in the world rankings it possesses the latent ability to knock off the second-ranked Australians should the collective mindset be on-song.

For Australia, a win and a successful home series against India this summer may see it return to world number one – it presently sits at number two, with 123 points, behind South Africa’s 124.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 8 September 2014