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O'Keefe calls for shake-up of Aussie approach in India

Steve O'Keefe, who bowled Australia to victory in Pune in 2017, has urged selectors to pick three spinners in the XI for their Test tour of India next year

The man responsible for one of India's only two Test defeats at home in the past decade says leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson deserves another chance on Australia's Indian tour next year.

But Steve O'Keefe, who famously spun Australia to victory in Pune in 2017, says finger spin will be the main weapon if the Aussies are to secure a breakthrough series win on Indian soil, urging selectors to pick Ashton Agar and bat him at No.7 as part of a three-man spin attack.

Image Id: 41A4E5F60CE145D58B138A871C0B5D03 Image Caption: O'Keefe celebrates his 14 wickets in Pune in 2017 // BCCI-Sportzpics

Having secured a famous series win in Pakistan and then squared their two-match campaign in Sri Lanka, Australia's Asian odyssey will face its toughest test early next year with a four-Test tour of India.

Australia have enjoyed just one series triumph on Indian soil in the past 50 years and India's recent home record of just two defeats in their 34 matches over the past 10 years makes it the toughest challenge in world cricket.

The role Swepson will play on the tour will undoubtedly be a talking point in the coming months. Having taken just two wickets in his debut series on flat pitches in Pakistan, leading to speculation he may be replaced by Agar in Sri Lanka, the Queenslander took eight wickets on turning pitches in Galle after Agar suffered an untimely injury.

India's recent success at home has been built on the finger spin of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, and O'Keefe believes Australia need to follow that blueprint.

But he says Swepson has a role to play as well.

"They've given him four Tests now, it's hard to judge a player on that amount of cricket.," O'Keefe told cricket.com.au.

"In India, I am a believer that finger spin is such a weapon because … everyone thinks you bowl finger spin so it must be easy, (but) it can still be really hard to get that control. And that asset, you look at the way that the Sri Lankan spinners bowled to us, they were just relentless in regard to their lines and their lengths.

Image Id: 19696F71477B4F8BA2FF2C0DB90F8747 Image Caption: Agar's immediate red-ball future is up in the air // Getty

"In regard to Swepson, I'd still continue to stick with him. He's a young fellow who's been thrust the ball in some difficult circumstances against really good players of spin and I think (in Sri Lanka) he held his own."

On Tuesday, Agar reflected on the side injury that ruled him out of the Sri Lanka Tests, which helped Swepson hold his spot in the XI.

Selectors called up left-arm finger spinners Jon Holland and Matt Kuhnemann as cover once Agar went down, but they ultimately stuck with Swepson to support Nathan Lyon for the two-Test series.

Agar, who played the most recent of his four Tests in 2017, said he has tried to move on quickly from the knowledge his injury may have cost him another chance at Test level.

"It was tough watching that, knowing there was a chance to play Test cricket again and then getting injured," he told SEN.

"The timing is never good, but it was especially bad at that time.

"(But) you've just got to work on getting your body right to go for the next tour. Because if you get stuck in the headspace of, 'I wish I was there, this was my chance to play', it's really negative. You're just always looking backwards, and you'll end up hating it."

O'Keefe has backed Agar, who has three first-class hundreds and a Test 98 to his name, to bat at No.7 in India as part of a three-man spin attack with Lyon and Swepson, which would force a revamp of Australia's batting line-up.

But given Agar is also a key part of Australia's white-ball set-up, O'Keefe acknowledged the 28-year-old may struggle to fine tune his red-ball game ahead of the India tour in February-March.

"I think the problem Ashton Agar's got is he's got so much white-ball cricket on that playing those four-day games, it's hard to fit in," he said.

Image Id: 29D280159AD240C88EE285C39A447DFE Image Caption: O'Keefe was impressed with Kuhnemann's international debut in Sri Lanka // Getty

"(But) he's another guy that I think over the next couple of series you're going to see some really special performances from him."

O'Keefe also praised Kuhnemann, who impressed on the white-ball leg of the Sri Lankan tour, and urged selectors to include him in an extended squad of spinners to take to India.

"Just bring them over, even if it's for learning – Matt Kuhnemann coming over for a month, you're not maybe in our top three spinners but maybe a door might open," he said.

"The spin bowling stocks in general though are bloody good. And I haven't even mentioned Tanveer Sangha, Todd Murphy or Ben Manenti."