O’Keefe will turn 38 just prior to the BBL season starting but has decided to continue playing under long-time mentors coach Greg Shipperd and captain Moises Henriques despite having retired from first-class cricket several years ago.
“Greg [Shipperd] and Moises [Henriques] are two of the main reasons I want to go around again,” O’Keefe said. “Greg is an excellent coach, and his record speaks for itself.
“However, he’s a true mentor. I’ve learnt a lot from Greg – not only from an on-field sense but off it as well. So, to be able to play another season under him, and alongside Moises, was a real drawcard for me to go around again.”
O’Keefe took 15 wickets last season in 11 matches for Sixers, at an economy rate of 6.57, including two outstanding four-wicket hauls. But his season was compromised by several calf injuries.
However, he continued to play club cricket for Manly-Warringah in Sydney’s first grade competition after the completion of the BBL season and is still keen to compete in the BBL.
“I’m working as hard as ever on my bowling because I want to be an important member of the team,” O’Keefe said. “We have some top-quality young spinners in our squad, and if you’re not doing well, it won’t take long for someone to take your spot.
“So, you need to bring ‘something’ each season. You have to be able to adapt, but it’s important to do the basics well, and to have a clear plan whenever you step onto the field.
“If you’re not improving your skill set – and mine’s bowling – it won’t take long before the competition’s batters cotton on and take advantage of that. You always have to be thinking. But something Greg Shipperd has said to me really resonates. He said ‘experience never gets old’ and what I’ve found is the more you play, the more you see. And, the more you put yourself into contests you might realise that [through experience] you’ve been in a particular situation before…and that helps.”
Shipperd said O’Keefe is still an incredibly valuable asset to the Sixers set-up.
“Stephen is a remarkable player in terms of the life of the franchise,” Shipperd said. “He’s been there for the whole journey – been through many ups, and some downs as well. But he’s still delivering at the highest level.
“Last season, he and Rashid Khan had daylight between them and the rest of the field in terms of spin bowling. We’re delighted to have him and, deservedly, for Stephen’s sake, for him to have a chance to play at his best.
“He’s not only one of our spiritual players on the field, but he’s also extremely popular with our fans. He’s like having another coach in our side and shaping the minds of our emerging spin bowlers.”