New South Wales Blues left-arm finger spinner Stephen O’Keefe has recovered from a slight hamstring strain and will join a 13-man squad for the JLT Sheffield Shield Final against Victoria at the Junction Oval, Melbourne, starting Thursday.
O’Keefe and captain Peter Nevill return to the squad for the final. The Blues skipper missed the 149-run win over Tasmania last week due to the birth of his first child.
Wicketkeeper Baxter Holt, who claimed a record nine catches on debut against Tasmania at Blundstone Arena, and fast bowler Liam Hatcher are the two omissions from the Blues squad that travelled to Hobart.
“I would have been touch and go for the last game but body’s feeling great, I’m in good hands with Dan Redrup and the (Strength and Conditioning staff), so yep ready to go,” O’Keefe said.
“(If I had) tried to push through that game (in Hobart) and made it worse, or didn’t give it the right type of healing, then that would have put this game in doubt.”
From just six matches this Shield season, interrupted by injury, O’Keefe has claimed 19 wickets at an average of 26.26.
His best return of the season came against Western Australia in round seven when he bowled the Blues to victory on the final day.
O’Keefe claimed 5-52 in the second innings as the visitors were bowled out for 147. It coupled his 4-78 in the first.
The last time the Blues met Victoria at Junction Oval, during round nine last season, O’Keefe claimed 8-77 on day one and finished the match with 10 wickets.
NSW lost that match by just 23 runs on the final afternoon.
O’Keefe expects the Junction Oval pitch to again offer something for spinners.
“Looking at the Junction in the past games that we’ve played there it’s probably a fraction slower, and the game going five days generally brings spin in at some stage, even if it is at the back end.”
O’Keefe explained that at one point during the season he considered retirement, but the injection of youth in the Blues squad has been a motivating factor to continue.
“I reckon if you’d asked me three or four months ago, I probably would have said that this would have been it,” he said.
“The way that I got through the Big Bash I probably surprised myself being able to get through 14 or 15 straight games there.
“I think a couple of the younger guys that we’ve picked in the Blues team, Jack Edwards and Jason Sangha, that sort of stuff encourages you to keep playing a little bit longer.”
NSW and Victoria share a storied rivalry since the inception of the Sheffield Shield in 1892/93. They last met in a Shield Final during 2007/08 when the Blues prevailed by 258 runs.
O’Keefe said that rivalry continues.
“I wouldn’t say there’s bad blood between the teams but there’s certainly more niggle when you play a Victorian team.
“They’re great competitors and I think they’ve shown over the last 10 years, winning four shields, that they’re a really tight unit.”
NSW Blues squad
Peter NEVILL (c)
SHEFFIELD SHIELD FINAL
NSW Blues v Victoria
Junction Oval, Melbourne, 28 March – 1 April
Live coverage on Fox Cricket and ABC Radio