Accountable … Stephen O’Keefe believes NSW can still win the Sheffield Shield.WITH his coach and chief executive sent packing as a result of the Cricket NSW board of directors tiring of their team’s poor results, skipper Stephen O’Keefe stuck his head over the parapet to concede he, too, was accountable for the most traumatic summer in the state’s history.
O’Keefe, a 28-year-old leg-spinner, was considered unlucky to have missed selection in the Australian squad about to tour India. However, his main focus was to ensure the Blues rallied to make the season count.
With their domestic one-day series in tatters, the lowlight being Wednesday’s humiliating defeat to Western Australia at the SCG, the Sheffield Shield has become the Blues’ rallying cry. However, as the problems of the CNSW front office were dredged up, O’Keefe revealed it had been a testing time.
”It’s hard not to take heavy losses personally, and in the one-day format particularly the side hasn’t performed well,” he said. ”As captain I have to take responsibility for that as much as the coach, as much as the 11 players out there. I point the finger at myself first and ask how I can improve.
”When we’re not performing well I expect fingers to be pointed my way; do well and I expect those fingers to be pointed at the team and hear people say how well we’re doing. They are the ups and downs of captaincy. You like the fact when you’re doing well you can stand up and be the spokesperson for the team. In the same regard, when the team doesn’t perform you expect some tough questions and to be held accountable.”
He has had moments that make him proud. He considered the selection of Steve Smith and Moises Henriques as a ”positive” in the state’s direction. He rated the emergence of young players such as Scott Henry as another sign NSW had an exceptional future and with four games remaining in the Shield season he was adamant NSW had the mettle to fight through to the final.
”We’re only seven points off the lead, of course we can,” he said of making a finals berth. ”The top teams have played seven games, we’ve played six. If we win two of those we’re going to be up there. Tasmania in Hobart is our next game and while it’s going to be hard because we’ll be without a couple of batters and potentially Brad Haddin if he is picked for Australia [for one-day matches], I have belief in this group and I’ll continue to have belief in this group that we can make the final and win the Sheffield Shield.
”If we need to play younger players in Hobart it will give them an opportunity to stand up and make a name for themselves.”
O’Keefe acknowledged there was a ruthlessness in the way coach Anthony Stuart left and how chief executive David Gilbert tendered his resignation after criticism directed at him by former Test fast bowler Brett Lee opened a Pandora’s box of discontent from grassroots to the top.
”My relationship with ‘Stuey’ this year was certainly a lot tighter than last year and I need to thank him for the effort he put in and the progress I have made as captain I owe to him,” he said.
”I don’t think it is a reflection of his coaching, I think it is more a reflection on the playing group on how we could have done better to accommodate Anthony. As a squad we’ve addressed it is so important that the playing group, regardless of who is coach, support him 100 per cent in getting behind their values and beliefs. We’re exposed to that … unfortunately it’s a fickle business, coaching.”
O’Keefe said one of the problems that beset the team under Stuart was a tendency for players to point fingers at others and some focused too much on themselves. As captain, O’Keefe said he supported Stuart to the hilt and admired how he took on critical feedback and acted on it.
”I’m captain and I take responsibility and am accountable,” he repeated. ”Sometimes it takes the sacking of a coach for the guys to realise ‘hang on, this guy has gone from the front’. Anthony and I worked very closely and very tight during the off-season, but unfortunately the board wants results, and trophies, and that’s fair enough they set the benchmark high.
”Ultimately, a decision needed to be made and Anthony was sacked. As a group it made us wake up to ourselves. Was it fair on Stuey? We can’t answer that, but as a team we know we can make these things right. If we win games these decisions don’t have to be made … that’s the accountability. We know changes will continually be made if we don’t turn things around and start winning.”
O’Keefe said the fates of Stuart and Gilbert also proved there was a constant pressure to perform.
”We’re dispensable,” he said. ”Two bad games for Australia – a bad session for Australia – and you’re dropped. ‘It’s a bit of a longer process in state cricket and while it’s cut-throat we accept and understand that. It’s why you need to enjoy every moment because you can count on one hand the number of players who’ve had fairytales in this game.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.