O’Keefe, Agar in Ashes duel

The battle between Sydney and Perth is fast becoming the best rivalry in cricket, and the stakes could be even higher for the winner of the Shield clash between the NSW Blues and Western Warriors with a potential Ashes spot up for grabs as Nathan Lyon’s understudy.

While the result of the most recent Big Bash League final featuring both sides rings fresh in the memories of all involved, that match is just one chapter of the ever building history between the sides.

Earlier this year the Warriors and Blues also met in two fiery clashes in the Matador One Day Cup.

The most important of these, the final, was won by the side from the West, who avenged their defeat at the hands of the Blues in the Shield final held at Manuka Oval in March 2014.

Heading into Wednesday’s match, the Blues sit top of the ladder, one spot above WA, following last week's 156-run win over Victoria with Sixers spin twins O'Keefe and No.1 Test tweaker Nathan Lyon grabbing four wickets apiece in the second innings as the Bushrangers were skittled for 114.

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O'Keefe's overall match figures of 8-86 were his best of the season but he was eclipsed by the Warriors and Scorchers’ tweaker Ashton Agar who finished with a maiden 10-wicket haul in WA's thrilling draw with South Australia.

Agar was named man-of-the-match after taking his side to the brink of victory, only for his side to fall just three runs shy of victory as they chased 75 off eight overs.

While O’Keefe is the most recent Aussie spinner to wear the Baggy Green alongside Lyon, as the pair played together last October in the UAE, it was Agar who was most recently selected as understudy during the final Test of the recent home series against India.

That latest selection came as O’Keefe returned from a calf injury, while ultimately Agar was not required to feature in the Test.

Statistically speaking, the numbers show that these two players not only mean a great deal to their side’s fortunes, but are also having incredibly strong seasons.

O’Keefe is currently 6th on the Shield wicket-takers list with 20 scalps at an average of 19.35. This average is the second best for any bowler in the competition.

Agar is right behind him in 9th with 17 wickets, at an average of 31.17. 

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Both men have also shown they’re no mugs with the bat, with Agar averaging over 30 and O’Keefe over 40 so far through the season.

While selectors might look favourably at the existing partnership between O’Keefe and Lyon to have him in front of Agar at this point, Blues teammate Kurtis Patterson believes the he should be selected on merit alone.

"Steve is playing superbly at the moment and is at the height of his confidence and doing all the right things to take wickets," Patterson told AAP.

"I don't think the selectors will look at the fact he is bowling in tandem with Nathan as a reason to pick him. They will look at performance and judge consistency and both have shown that.

"I am sure Ash is doing the same for WA. He's coming in off a 10-wicket game so it will be a good test to see how well those guys go."

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