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Mum thrilled from afar to see Steve O’Keefe make his Test debut

Posted by on 17/05/2019

Jann O’Keefe is sitting in the living room of her daughter Rebekah’s home in Glenmore Park watching the cricket.
Nanjing Night Net

She’s 12,000 kilometres away from her only son Steve, whose left-arm spin doesn’t appear to be troubling Pakistan’s batsmen in the searing heat of Dubai.

Less than 48 hours ago she received an email from her son, better known in cricketing circles as SOK, saying he was going to make his Test debut, nine years after he first pulled on a baggy blue for NSW.

The O’Keefe family has not had enough time to make their way across the world to support their boy. But with just one delivery, skied to Mitch Marsh at square leg, Ms O’Keefe can breathe a sigh of relief.

“It’s so exciting,” says Ms O’Keefe, a nurse by night and a former chauffeur to cricketing venues by day. “It seems rather surreal. It feels like it’s not happening. A lot of hard work has gone into that.”

When Dean Jones presented O’Keefe with baggy green number 439, his mother noticed the irony in the ceremony.

“Steve’s first bat we found in the shed and it was a Dean Jones Supreme bat,” Ms O’Keefe says. “He mucked around in the backyard with it. He also had a navy blue Victorian shirt as well with Jones’ name on it.

“I didn’t know much about cricket but I knew he loved Dean Jones.”

On Wednesday O’Keefe became the first Australian Test player born in Malaysia, a result of his father’s work for the Royal Australian Air Force.

O’Keefe moved to Victoria with his family in 1986 before moving again to Sydney to start school.

It was here Steve’s infatuation with cricket began. His tactical nous and adroitness with the willow or his medium pacers served him well in junior representative cricket for Hawkesbury.

At 15 he ditched the long run for finger spin because he “had the mind of a fast bowler and the body of a spinner”, according to an old coach.

O’Keefe oozed confidence in his teenage years, which Hawkesbury teammate and fellow one-Test player John Hastings vividly remembers.

“I was about 15 years old at Bensons Lane nets and I saw this kid with blond hair bowling left-arm spinners; he was pretty cocky and a confident lad and then we hit it off after that,” Hastings says. “Now we’re just a couple of Hawkesbury battlers doing our best, which is the way Steve puts it.”

O’Keefe was best man at Hastings’ wedding and they pair remained great friends since “The Duke” moved to Victoria in 2007.

The Hawkesbury trio was rounded out with current Queensland batsman Peter Forrest, who spent countless days with O’Keefe and Hastings carpooling to the SCG for state training while juggling PE teaching degrees at ACPE in Homebush.

“Both the boys now have got baggy greens, so I need to lift my game,” Forrest says, laughing. “I’m so happy for Steve though, he seems to be in a good place.

“The friendship’s still there between the three of us too.”

It was to the trio’s indomitable attitude to training Ms O’Keefe attributes her son’s success.

She knows it was all worth while, thinking back to the days she would sleep in her car at a cricket ground, having just done a graveyard shift at the hospital, so Steve could get the opportunity to give the six-stitcher a big rip.

“They were all competitive against one another,” Ms O’Keefe says.

“Because my husband was away, the onus was on me to do whatever I had to do to meet his commitments with his sport.

“I look back at it and think ‘How did I do that’?’

O’Keefe’s tweakers have returned 128 wickets at 24 from 41 first-class matches and his 41-wicket haul in the last Sheffield Shield season was justice for several years of being overlooked as the nation’s number two spin bowler.

Anthony Kershler, a former NSW orthodox spinner, captained O’Keefe when he made his first grade debut at 18. Kershler said he gave “Keefey” tutelage when he needed it, but his space at times too.

“He’s naturally an aggressive guy and it comes out in his cricket,” says Kershler. “He loved the contest. He never does anything by halves.

“We used to joke around saying you didn’t know which Steve O’Keefe was going to turn up. One week he’d be there in the change rooms reading a book on the Shaolin way with the Buddhist monks. You sort of didn’t know what to expect.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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