O'Keefe calls for three-man spin attack for Asian Tests

Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson are ready to step up and partner Nathan Lyon in the subcontinent next year, according to Steve O'Keefe

Former Test tweaker Steve O'Keefe says Australia should consider playing three frontline spinners in the same XI on their eight-Test tour of Asia next year as they look to end their decade-long drought in the subcontinent.

Australia are scheduled to play away Tests against India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2022, which is set to include a return to Pakistan for the first time since 1998 having recently played them on neutral territory in the UAE.

O'Keefe, who famously took a match-winning haul of 14 wickets on Australia's 2017 tour of India, says Mitchell Swepson and Ashton Agar are both ready to support frontline tweaker Nathan Lyon on the subcontinent, and suggested Agar's batting ability could allow selectors to pick all three in the same side.

"I think we're in as good a place as we've ever been from a bowling point of view," said O'Keefe, who has confirmed he will play another season in the KFC BBL with the Sydney Sixers.

"With Ashton batting as well as he is, you could play all three.

"I think we need to start looking at three spinners as well as a quick and a medium pacer. That would be my five bowling options in some of the conditions you encounter over there.

"In the past, we've generally gone, 'we'll play what's best for us, which is three fast bowlers'. But I think it's so hard in that heat and those conditions for those guys to have success."

The last of O'Keefe's nine Tests came in Bangladesh four years ago, when he joined Lyon and Agar in a three-man spin attack alongside frontline paceman, Pat Cummins, and seam-bowling allrounder, Hilton Cartwright.

Image Id: D06EB708EFE040A3A761BAB774F66635 Image Caption: O'Keefe was favoured by the pitch conditions in the subcontinent during his Test career // Getty

The emergence of Cameron Green means Australia will likely have an extra seam-bowling option in their top six next year, while Agar showed his all-round ability with a hundred in the Marsh Sheffield Shield last season.

Swepson is currently the second Test spinner in line behind Lyon following a breakout Shield campaign last summer, when he took 32 wickets in five games as Queensland won the title.

Finger spinners have generally had more success in Asia than leg-spin bowlers, with legendary wrist spinners like Shane Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed both having better career records outside of Asia than in it.

But O'Keefe believes picking three slow bowlers in the same side would allow Swepson to be deployed as an attacking weapon and says Agar's control as a left-arm finger spinner would allow both Lyon and Swepson to thrive.

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"Players in the subcontinent will pray on any loose deliveries ... and that's hard with leg-spin because you've got to be so accurate to build pressure," he said.

"But the beauty of playing Nathan Lyon with Ashton Agar or if you went with all three, Nathan is an attacking, over-the-top spin bowler who can be aggressive, then someone like Ashton could really control (the game) and bring the run rate down to two or three an over.

"When you look at the Indian spinners (Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja) bowling well, that's genuinely how they work ... one will contain and one will be the wicket-taker.

"So I think it's important for those guys to get some opportunities to bowl together, whether that's in some lead-up games for Aussie A or tour games over there, to get the synergy right of bowling together. I think they'll have success."

Agar, who is over six-foot-tall, spoke this week about how he's learning to alleviate the impact his tall frame has on his bowling, which can produce important bounce in Australia but can be far less effective in spinning conditions.

Low to high: Agar outlines Bangladesh's spin skills

O'Keefe said producing extra bounce was a handicap Lyon has been able to overcome on recent tours of Asia, adding the Western Australian is already showing an ability to do the same.

"The challenge for Nathan at times was to hit the stumps," O'Keefe said of the off-spinner, who has averaged just 22 from his past eight Tests in Asia compared to 43 from his first 11 Tests in the subcontinent.

"Because he spun the ball, got so much bounce and was a bit taller, it is a skill to be able to hit the stumps when there's a lot going on in the wicket. Nathan, in his last Test in Bangladesh, he really worked it out. He got a lot more LBWs, he wasn't afraid to bowl ugly, bowl square spinners and slide the ball on a bit fuller and a bit quicker.

"You can't change your height, but you can certainly change your arm and Ashton's doing that. He's bowling a bit more round-arm, he's bowling some seam-up stuff where the ball just skids on.

"I think he's well placed. He doesn't just bowl the same ball every ball, he really thinks about it and he's a student of spin. With all this international experience and with him trying new things and having some success, it'll really put him in good stead when these tours come."