Usman Khawaja has an army, where is Stephen O’Keefe’s?

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New South Wales spinner Stephen O'Keefe may be exactly what Australia needs. (Image: Andrew Yates/AAP)

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Usman Khawaja has an army of supporters ready to defend his honour, along with pushing his case to be selected for Australia. Why doesn’t Stephen O’Keefe?

Perhaps I need to lead the charge for the recruitment of a legion of fans to voice their disapproval on the way the NSW spinner has been treated by Australian cricket selectors. He certainly deserves to have the same quantity and quality of passionate supporters that Khawaja has.

Yet for some strange reason, young Uzzy seems to generate far and away the most sympathy when it comes to how he has been treated by selectors.

On Friday, my Roar colleague Geoff Lemon wrote an excellent piece in which he outlined why he believed it was the correct decision for Khawaja to not be awarded a Cricket Australia contract.

In the ensuring debate that occurred, I stated that I find the level of support for Uzzy bemusing, and labelled his ‘Khawaii’ fans the ‘Khawaja Army’; though in hindsight ‘Khawarmy’ is probably a sexier name.

I do indeed find it interesting that Khawaja seems to generate such passion in his supporter base; much more than other players that have been equally stuffed around by selectors over the years.

As one example, I brought up Brad Hodge, the patron saint of selector negligence.

A number of Roarers brought up some great points and reasons why the level of outrage over Khawaja’s treatment is so high, and so loud.

They included the proliferation of social media – along with websites such as The Roar – which have provided fans with a platform they didn’t previously have to voice their disapproval.

There was also the astute point made that Hodge, for example, had more talented players in front of him than Khawaja currently does, and the not unrelated fact that Australia was winning a lot more Tests when Hodge was struggling to earn a call-up.

Success does tend to quiet a lot of outrage.

Roarer Red Kev had an even darker suggestion: that Australian’s love a scandal, and that there is a whiff of racism about Khawaja’s treatment.

Not for one minute am I suggesting Khawaja hasn’t been selected because of his race or religion, but the fact that it is even mentioned does add serious intrigue and interest to the subject matter.

Personally, I think the level of outrage can actually be attributed to the two states Khawaja has represented in first class cricket.

As rugby league’s State of Origin series clearly demonstrates, New South Welshmen and Queenslanders love a whinge. Khawaja’s treatment provides the opportunity for the two states to do just that.

As I remove my tongue from my cheek, it is worth noting that whinging doesn’t make your point incorrect. I myself have complained loudly and often about Khawaja’s treatment. And while not a card carrying member of his army, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that he has been screwed by the national selectors.

I just find it bemusing that Khawaja gets so strongly singled out, when other players have a solid case to be just as frustrated with the selectors.

Callum Ferguson, Tim Paine, Jackson Bird, Joe Burns, Chris Rogers, Chris Hartley, James Hopes, Luke Butterworth, and in particular, David Hussey, are just a sample of other cricketers who would love – or would have loved – to have the same level of support that Khawaja receives from the public.

Sadly, spots in Jason Krezja’s army are now redundant. Though I’m sure he would have appreciated a strong army when he was dropped one Test match after taking 12 wickets, including eight in the first innings.

As a sidenote, I think the internet would have melted if it was around for Dean Jones’ axing from the Australian team.

The point is, many cricketers deserve an army of supporters who will let their voice be heard and castigate the selectors for how they have treated their favourite player.

And so we come back to Stephen O’Keefe.

Some Roarers like to believe that O’Keefe has only been dudded once, when he failed to make the touring party for India, despite a 2012/13 first class season in which he took 24 wickets at 22, with an economy rate of 2.23.

Sadly, much like Khawaja, this is not an isolated occurrence.

In 2009, O’Keefe’s first class bowling average was 25, Xavier Doherty’s was 50, and Michael Beer’s was 39. All were, and not surprisingly still are, left arm spinners.

O’Keefe was selected as the spinner for Australia A in the tour match against England. In the first innings, he took the most wickets (4), and also top scored with 66 runs.

Who did selectors pick for the Ashes series? Xavier Doherty. Who they then dropped, and replaced with Michael Beer.

So both Doherty and Beer were selected ahead of the spinner chosen in Australia’s second XI, who had a significantly better first class record, who is a much better batsman and fieldsman, and who performed very well in the tour game against the team Australia would be playing in the Tests.

It would seem baffling selections are not exclusive to the John Inverarity era.

In any case, where was the outrage over O’Keefe’s non-selection? Where was the O’Keefe Army?

Incidentally, it’s interesting to note which player made their debut during the Sydney Test of that Ashes series: Usman Khawaja. And if Rob Quiney’s 9 on debut can be called ‘polished’, then Uzzy’s knock of 37 was solid gold. He looked every bit the Test batsman in that game.

But I digress. Nor do I need to give the ‘Khawarmy’ any more ammunition, for we’ve heard enough from them recently. They’ve stated their case – repeatedly – and while I for one agree with their overall point, it’s time to allow someone else the limelight for a couple of minutes, so let us return to the ‘SOK’.

O’Keefe’s first class batting average is 31, with a bowling average of 26.

Those are numbers that genuinely classify him as an all-rounder.

Yet Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques, Steve Smith, John Hastings, Dan Christian and Shane Watson have all been preferred over O’Keefe when it comes to the selectors’ love affair with all-rounders. A love that has been unrequited so far, I might add.

O’Keefe has been treated just as badly, if not worse, than Khawaja has. So where is his army? It certainly seems like he deserves one.

And you can sign up for it below.

 

Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.
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