When Australia toured India in February 2017, not many – at least in India – gave them too much of a chance.
India were the No.1 side in Tests, and were coming off an unbeaten streak of 19 Tests, which included convincing series victories over Sri Lanka, South Africa, Windies, New Zealand, England and Bangladesh over 18 months. And Australia had started the first match having lost their last nine Tests in Asia. They had also been beaten 4-0 the last time they had travelled to India to play Test cricket, in February-March 2013.
And not many followers of the game in India had much of an idea about Steve O’Keefe.
Therefore, what happened at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in the first Test in Pune came as a jolt. O’Keefe returned identical figures of 6/35 in the two innings to shoot India out for 105 and 107. That gave him match figures of 12/70, the best by any visiting spinner in a Test in India. And India were brought down to earth with a 333-run hammering.
Choosing to bat first on a surface tailor-made for spinners, Australia got to 260 in their first innings, Matt Renshaw at the top and Mitchell Starc down at No.8 doing the bulk of the scoring.
O'Keefe then ran India ragged, producing left-arm spin of the highest quality. No batsman bar KL Rahul, who scored 64, showed fight and India lost their last seven wickets for 11 runs in a span of 48 deliveries.
Then came one of the great Test innings of the year, one of the best in India by a visiting captain. On a spiteful pitch with uneven bounce, Steve Smith battled for 256 minutes to score a solid 109. Chances went down as he used his feet to good effect, gathering runs on both sides to race to his 18th Test century. Ravichandran Ashwin picked up four wickets but was taken for 119 runs in 28 overs as Australia got to 285 to set India an improbable 441 runs to chase in the final innings.
To get anywhere close to the target, India needed a special knock from the star batsmen, especially Virat Kohli, who was dismissed for a duck in the first innings. He got just 13 the second time before being bowled by O’Keefe shouldering arms. The rest didn’t fare much better, as only Cheteshwar Pujara (31) topped 18. The innings lasted just 33.5 overs.
The 333-run loss was India’s second-biggest margin of defeat in a home Test and fourth largest overall.
India were given a taste of their own medicine by O’Keefe, and how!