Mitch Swepson should partner spinner Nathan Lyon at SCG, says Steve O’Keefe

Lyon have played 10 matches at SCG since 2012, but have an average of 40.94 per wicket, which is above his career average in Australia of 32.33. After picking up 10 wickets against New Zealand in 2019 – his only two five-wickets move from 10 tests at SCG – Lyon returned figures of 2-201 against India earlier this year from 77 draining overs.

O’Keefe has taken seven wickets in two SCG Tests to 23.71 at home.

Gone are the days when SCG was a spinner paradise and a fifth-day paradise for tweakers, and Australian voters will be very mindful of it when discussing whether Swepson should play.

Stephen O'Keefe throws himself into the nets ahead of Australia's test against the West Indies in 2016.

Stephen O’Keefe throws himself into the nets ahead of Australia’s test against the West Indies in 2016. Credit:AP

“We would love nothing more than for him to have an opportunity, but it will be conditional,” Bailey said.

From 1991 to 2000 at SCG, Australian spinners averaged 31.73. From 2001 to 2010, that figure was almost identical to 31.65.

But in the last 11 calendar years (2011 to 2021), Australian spinners have taken 47 wickets to 44.95 on the famous course.

Meanwhile, the increase on average also extends to visiting bowlers. From 2001 to 2010, overseas spinners averaged 44.69, but in the period 2011 to 2021, that number rose significantly to 56.28.

Since the turn of the century, Anil Kumble (20) has the most wickets of any overseas bowler at SCG, ahead of Danish Kaneria and Ravi Ashwin.

The same increase applies when analyzing the percentage of wickets taken by Australian spinners at SCG. From 2000 to 2010, Australian spinners took 37 per cent of their team’s wickets at SCG, compared to 26 per cent in the last 11 years.

In the Warne and MacGill era, spinners regularly took 50 per cent or more of Australia’s wickets at SCG, especially late in the match when large cracks began to open up.

“I think [the reason for the increase in averages] is down to different track conditions, ”O’Keefe said. “They now want to leave more grass on the wicket, and or square, to make the wicket block look better on TV, which has suited fast bowling.”

O’Keefe believes Swepson, who took 32 wickets to 23.4 in last year’s Sheffield Shield season, should play at SCG, meaning Australia will have to leave out one of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or Scott Boland.

“I think he’s put in so much hard work,” O’Keefe said. “The tours I took on, he was always there as a project player. When you saw him play last year [in the Sheffield Shield] he went to another level. He wanted the ball in his hand, bowled more consistently, bowled big leg-breaks and took lots of wickets.

“When you think about the trips they’re on their way, you want to have playing time into him at some point. When he takes over for these subcontinental trips, you do not want to throw him in the fire. I think he will enjoy that.

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“We used to talk about my shit straight left arm fractures as the second best option, but we’ve actually got some real depth and real spin bowlers, which has taken some time. Nathan Lyon and Mitch Swepson are right at the top of the tree. “

Former Australian captain Mark Taylor has suggested that the choice of Swepson is the way to go, with trips to the subcontinent on the horizon.

“They need to find a suitable replacement in the coming years for Nathan Lyon,” Taylor told the Wide World of Sports. “Maybe it’s Mitch Swepson, and maybe they’re even giving Swepson the next test.”

However, O’Keefe has a sneaking suspicion that the SCG pitch may be a little different this time around.

“The final pitch for the Sheffield Shield match against Victoria was the perfect wicket and the best I’ve seen it,” O’Keefe said. “I would personally leave thick grass on it and dry the wicket out. Thatched grass is the key.”

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