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'Relieved' O'Keefe shrugs off doubts, fear for 11th season

Steve O'Keefe admits he had doubts about if he would return for an 11th BBL season but the Sydney Sixers will be glad he did after he claimed career-best figures in the rout of the Stars

Before steamrolling through the Melbourne Stars top order in the KFC BBL|11 season opener on Sunday night, veteran spinner Steve O'Keefe had only played one game of cricket this summer.

If he's being honest, the 36-year-old finger spinner questioned whether he would even be back for his 11th BBL season as the Sydney Sixers shoot for a historic three-peat.

But weren't the Sixers glad he was when he reduced the Stars to 2-4 inside the first over before going on to claim career-best T20 figures of 4-14 as Melbourne capitulated to 61 all out, with the Sydney club claiming the BBL record-winning margin of 152 runs.

O'Keefe admitted after the game he didn't do anything in the off-season and had to be convinced to pull the magenta on for another season this summer.

Crafty O'Keefe claims four in BBL opener

"Once it was tools down, I really just shut down," he said on Sunday night.

"I tried to have some time off, questioned whether I was going to play or whether they wanted to give me a contract.

"It was just more of a case of if I'm eager and motivated to play, which to be honest, has been a challenge.

"But I've just got some great leaders in this group in Moises and Shippy (Greg Shipperd) who cajoled me back to the group and got me back in around the fold."

And once he's back around the Sixers group, O'Keefe – who took 35 wickets in nine Tests for Australia between 2014 and 2017 – said he really does enjoy it.

"Having this success just adds to it, so it was nice way to start," he said.

"When you get a little bit older, speaking personally, it's just gets harder and harder to mentally get up for it.

"There were times during the off-season where I was doing nothing and sitting on the couch, staring at the TV like most Australians during COVID thinking I'm going to be nowhere near fit enough to play."

Sixers thrash Stars in record-breaking display

But within two balls on Sunday, it was clear why the Sixers' leaders were so keen to have him back this summer as the slippery spinner coaxed a loose shot out of much-hyped English import Joe Clarke to send him on his way for a single run.

Two balls later and the passion was back with a pumped O'Keefe punching the air as he removed Nick Larkin for a duck to have Stars reeling in pursuit of the Sixers' 4-213.

O'Keefe has played in all 11 seasons of the BBL along with two for NSW in the Big Bash and sits 17th on the BBL's top wicket-takers list with 67 scalps from 75 matches.

He also has a knack of taking wickets in the first over of a BBL innings and is fourth on the list with seven behind James Faulkner (15), Brett Lee (9) and Daniel Worrall (8).

He said he was relieved to make it through the first game after not playing for so long, with his only competitive appearance before the Sixers assembled for a few practice games last week coming for club side Manly-Warringah in early November where he sent down five overs for a return of 1-22.

"The longer that you're out of the game in regard to not playing, the harder it is to come back," he said.

"I felt the body was bit sore during training and the standard … goes up a gear and you haven't been there for nine months so personally it was nice, a good way to start.

"There's a lot of soreness, there's a lot of doubt, there's a lot of fear still rumbling through my brain, one performance doesn't take away any of that sort of stuff.

"It's a long way to go, we know it's a long tournament and I'm just relieved to be honest."

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