'Really ashamed': Steve O'Keefe's devastation after sudden retirement

Andrew Reid
·4-min read
Steven O'Keefe has the greatest match figures of any overseas bowler for a Test match in India. Pic: Getty
Steven O'Keefe has the greatest match figures of any overseas bowler for a Test match in India. Pic: Getty

Steven O'Keefe says his only regrets in retirement are a series of controversial off-field incidents that dogged his cricket career.

The 35-year-old announced his sudden retirement from first class cricket on Sunday after not being offered a new Sheffield Shield contract for the NSW Blues, despite being the leading wicket-taker for spin bowlers in the 2019/20 season.

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O'Keefe played nine Test matches for Australia and still holds the record for the greatest figures of any foreign bowler in India - taking an astonishing 12-70 in a famous 2017 Test victory in Pune.

However, O'Keefe's stint with the national side was overshadowed and effectively curtailed by off-field incidents involving alcohol.

O'Keefe had just returned from a tour to Sri Lanka in 2016 when he was fined $10,000 by Cricket Australia after being issued with an Infringement Notice by NSW Police for offensive behaviour at a popular pub in Manly.

O'Keefe's career-best figures in India suggested he had moved on from the controversy, only to cop a $20,000 fine later in 2017 for making “highly inappropriate comments” while he was intoxicated at a cricket function.

O'Keefe told ABC’s Corbin and Ben radio show on Sunday that he was "disappointed" by the fact he failed in his duty as a "good role model" in lieu of his off-field indiscretions.

“What the Australian team and public deserve is not only cricketers, but good role models,” O’Keefe said on Sunday.

“Absolutely, I dropped the ball not once and twice, and I’m really ashamed of the way that I’ve behaved.

“Cricket Australia really put in a lot of support networks for people when they do drop the ball like I did … and I don’t hold any grudges because of that.

“It was never said to me, ‘You did this, so you don’t deserve this,’ but I know for a fact that if I behave better and do all the right things, then you get that opportunity.

“I’m disappointed, but I don’t make any apologies for myself.

“The only regrets I’ve ever had in cricket aren’t on the field, they’re off the field.

“I’ve tried my best to improve... It’s a work in progress.”

O'Keefe confirmed his retirement from Sheffield Shield on Sunday but said he would continue playing Big Bash for the Sydney Sixers.

The left-arm tweaker played nine Tests for Australia and took 35 wickets.

The 35-year-old also took 16 wickets at 22.25 for NSW as they won the Sheffield Shield last summer, the most scalps of any spinner in the competition.

Despite no obvious other spin options when Nathan Lyon is unavailable through Test duties, O'Keefe was told he wouldn't be retained.

O'Keefe said he was disappointed but accepted the decision.

‘What I'll miss most’

"It's been such a privilege to play for my country and captain my state but above everything else I'm most proud to have played alongside some of the best blokes I've ever met," he said.

"When I think about my time playing cricket, that's what I'll miss most."

NSW's only other real spin option this summer was youngster Jason Sangha, but he only bowled two overs in the red-ball competition.

The Blues could now be forced to look elsewhere for a spinner, or take a punt on a non-established player.

Pictured here, Steven O'Keefe in action for NSW in Sheffield Shield.
Steven O'Keefe was the leading wicket-taker for spinners in the 2019/20 Sheffield Shield season. Pic: Getty

O'Keefe has battled calf injuries in recent years, but still looked as if he could continue playing for longer.

He will finish his first-class career with 301 wickets at 24.66.

His haul makes him the third most successful left-arm spinner in Shield history behind Englishman Tony Lock and Victorian Ray Bright.

It will be at international level where O'Keefe is best remembered.

His figures of 6-35 in both innings in Pune in 2017 were the best match figures by an overseas spinner in India in history.

After making his debut in Dubai in 2004, he played his last Test in Bangladesh in 2017.

Often the second spin choice in Asia, he also played two Tests on home soil, picking up wickets against the West Indies and Pakistan at the SCG in 2016 and 2017.

However has since been leapfrogged by Mitchell Swepson in the Test pecking order, while Ashton Agar has also come into the extended squad in recent years.

with AAP