cricket / long form

The Rise and Fall of Big Jake

*Posted at Backward Point on June 25 2012, this piece has not been edited to take into consideration that Jacob Oram was released from contract in December 2012.Image

Jacob Oram is a cricketer who has had a career well in excess of what anyone would have predicted. When he first began, he was not much more than a bits and pieces player. Good medium fast bowler, nice bounce, hard-hitting batsman. However somewhere along the way he turned himself into an integral part of the Black Caps. The genius of Jacob Oram was that he played roles extremely well. He could be relied on to assess the situation and adjust his game accordingly, often making a contribution much more important than what it appeared on the scoresheet.

This most often came out when he was batting in limited overs matches. His numbers weren’t world class, but there are some important statistical clues as to his value. In ODI matches, his average was 24.76 across 111 innings, with 11 not outs. His strike rate is 87.16. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t really top 6 material. In fact, over the 52 matches that he played at 6, hisaverage was only 23.63. He did however hit a century (against Australia, yes, it matters.) and five fifties from 6, showing that sometimes he rose to the occasion and played a big role. By definition a big score at 6 is either a rescue job, or the icing on the cake.

Oram really excelled at 7, 8 and 9. Over the 45 innings he played in those

positions, his average was 28.9, excellent returns for that position in the late
stages of the innings. There is a more important number though. 114. That is the
number of boundaries hit in the late stages of an innings. A fair proportion went
for six, approximately a third. The value of boundaries hit at the death can often
be much more than would be expected. Either they bring a chase closer in one
big jump, or they act as bonus runs to a target. Bowlers hate being clubbed for
boundaries at the death, even if they expect it. They undo any good work built up
by bowling dots earlier in the over.

His bowling record is also very strong in 50 over matches. You wouldn’t expect
someone who bowls awkward bouncy medium pace would take many wickets,
but he has. 168 to be precise, in 149 innings. His economy rate really sets him
apart, because he only goes for 4.34. He can bowl at pretty much any stage of
the innings, except probably opening. His record against various teams is good
except for Australia, and to a lesser degree England and Sri Lanka.

Oram’s T20 record is less strong, especially given that he should be well suited.
He does however perform almost as well with the bat in non-international T20,
and much better with the ball. He bowls less expensively and takes more wickets.
A strong bowling all-rounder is an ideal player for a team who can only feature
a limited number of internationals. Some of these numbers might be boosted
by appearances against New Zealand teams, but you can only play against the
opposition provided so this is fair enough.

However, there is one problem that cannot be overlooked. He is not somebody
who can play every game, because he often ends up injured. Make no mistake,
Jacob works incredibly hard on his rehab, but there are some undeniable truths
about his career. He has missed a number of games in recent years due to injury.

Between 2002 and 2007, he played a lot of matches in all formats, though T20
only really in 2007. There are however big and frequent gaps over his entire
career. After Boxing Day in 2004, he didn’t play for New Zealand again until
August 24, 2005. He missed the 2nd half of the 2006 summer. He didn’t play
over the 2009-10 Kiwi summer, or from August 2010 until late January 2011.
Since 2009 he has played 52 matches for New Zealand, out of a possible 123. For
someone who has only recently permanently stopped being considered for the
test team, that isn’t many games. The selectors know that his career is living on
borrowed time.

Jacob Oram though was one of the lucky players to receive a contract, which may
well end up being something of a golden handshake. There isn’t long until the
T20 World Cup, and the next One Day World Cup isn’t until 2015. There can’t be
much chance of him playing beyond the T20 Cup in any meaningful sense. The
kindest thing to do for Jacob may have been to leave him off the contract list, let
him travel the world earning better money as a T20 freelancer and secure his
financial future before his career ends for good.

For old cricketers, the T20 circuit has become something of a pension scheme.
You might get three seasons in the IPL if you can keep your game in good order,
provided that you have a well made name. Then there are the lesser, but still
lucrative T20 competitions, the Big Bash, The HRV Cup, Bangladesh Premier
League etc. The more amateur players of old used to get a benefit season after
long service to a team, the tradition is alive and well in the professional era.
Perhaps this is also part of the logic of giving Oram a central contract.

Oram was great in his day, and was a genuine match winner who delivered
some incredible performances. He cannot do it forever. He is almost 34, and
being a bowling all rounder is possibly the most taxing position in the game.
There cannot be much left in the big man. I personally will be sad to see him go,
he has played a decade of often heroic cricket for the Black Caps, in a manner
comparable to someone like Paul Collingwood. But go he should. It is time
the Black Caps moved onto those who will be around in 2015. We need to be
grooming the next bowling all rounder, a role that could be filled by Southee,
Nathan McCullum, or Bracewell. They will need game time to develop, and Oram
is at the end of the line.

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