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Murali spins O'Keefe into contention

Cricket

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Steve O’Keefe says Sri Lanka’s spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan has been invaluable in helping him work on his variations in a bid to push for Test selection in the upcoming series against Pakistan.

Uncapped left-arm spinner O’Keefe claimed 3-76 off 23 overs on Wednesday in Pakistan A’s first innings of 8-305 off 90 overs in Sharjah.

Both sides have agreed on 90 overs per innings for the four-day game.

Pakistan A captain Asad Shafiq, who has scored four Test hundreds, hit an unbeaten 108 including 13 fours and four sixes.

O’Keefe, who is firming for a Test debut in Dubai on October 22, said it was a dead wicket which forced bowlers to use all their tricks.

“Subtle variations, particularly stuff I’ve worked with Murali through the week have really helped out,” O’Keefe said.

Test world-record holder Murali’s 15-day assignment as Australia’s spin consultant ends on Friday.

O’Keefe says if the pitch isn’t turning much, you just have to find a way.

“Your main thing on these sort of wickets is you have to be hitting the stumps, give yourself a chance,” O’Keefe said.

“And then the rest is moving around the crease, cross-seam can be quite effective on these wickets, given that the ball can skip off sometimes and bounce maybe if it hits the seam.

“That’s what Murali has been invaluable with, those sorts of variations.

“I haven’t got his doosra, that’d be nice. But I’ll just go with the one that slides on.”

O’Keefe, who admitted to nerves in the morning session, said he wasn’t over the line yet.

“If the conditions dictate playing two spinners (in Dubai) that would be great,” he said.

“I’m certainly not thinking I’ve got a baggy green.

“It’s just ‘let’s get through this match, let’s get a win, let’s keep contributing’ and the rest will dictate itself.

“But to get three of their top seven out, I’ll take a lot out of that.”

Pakistan A were 4-170 at tea after losing the wickets of Shan Masood (six), Israr Ullah (five), Ahmed Shehzad (55) and Babar Azam (40).

O’Keefe broke the 100-run stand between Shafiq and Haris Sohail with the total on 223. Left-hander Sohail on 43 was bowled by O’Keefe.

The 29-year-old NSW tweaker made his third breakthrough at 6-268 when Adnan Akmal (25) was caught at slip.

Peter Siddle claimed 2-61 in a bid to lock in his new-ball role with Mitchell Johnson (1-40) in the Dubai Test. Fellow quick Ben Hilfenhaus took 1-37.

Pace-bowling allrounder Mitchell Marsh’s performance will be watched closely by selectors after the uncapped West Australian strained a hamstring on September 30.

Marsh is expected to bowl in Pakistan A’s second innings.

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