Smith backing O'Keefe to trouble Sri Lanka
Steve Smith expects Steve O'Keefe to grasp his opportunity after the spinner was named in the Australia team for the first Test against Sri Lanka this week.
Australia captain Smith confirmed on the eve of the first game in the three-match series that O'Keefe will get his chance in a two-pronged spin attack along with Nathan Lyon.
Left-armer O'Keefe will play in only his third Test when Australia take on Angelo Mathews' depleted side in Pallekele.
O'Keefe took 10 wickets as well as making 78 not out in a warm-up match against a Sri Lanka XI last week and Smith has backed the 31-year-old to make an impact against a Sri Lanka side which was beaten 2-0 in a recent Test series against England.
Smith said on Monday: "I think he has always improved, each year he's played he has improved.
"Looking back to the UAE tour [against Pakistan in 2014], we bowled first on both of those occasions and were behind the game quite often.
"It's always a different game when you get in front of the game and there's a bit of pressure on the batters to score runs and play with guys around the bat and those kinds of things.
"I guess we never really got in that kind of position so we never saw that side of Stephen. But I think he has progressed really well. He's probably bowling as well as I've seen him bowl. In the tour match he bowled beautifully.
"He bowled the same ball and some skidded on and some spun. Quite similar to Rangana Herath, the way he bowls in these conditions. I'm sure he'll do well."
Australia vice-captain David Warner will play after an absence due to a broken finger, while fit-again left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc also returns to the Test arena.
Sri Lanka will be out injured quicks Dhammika Prasad and Dushmantha Chameera, while Shaminda Eranga was suspended from bowling last month due to an illegal action and Suranga Lakmal (hamstring) is a doubt.
Mathews said: "It has been a very frustrating few months. Not only one bowler, we've lost so many.
"At international level, I can't go as a captain and say we don't have bowlers. If we don't have them, we need to know how to produce them."
Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva and Vishwa Fernando are in contention to make their Test debuts for Sri Lanka.
KEY OPTA STATS:
- Sri Lanka have gone 15 Tests without a win over Australia; a run stretching back to September 1999 - losing 10 and drawing five.
- Australia have lost four of their last five Test series in Asia; the one victory however came in their most recent visit to Sri Lanka five years ago.
- Sri Lanka are without a win in five Tests. while Australia are currently on a nine-game streak without defeat.
- Smith comes into this match on the back of five successive scores of 50 plus, one more and it will be the 30th time a player has managed six or more consecutive scores of 50 or more.
- Angelo Mathews has a Test average of 49.9 across his 11 innings against Australia; the highest of any Sri Lanka player ever to have played five innings' or more.