oram

The name Jacob Oram brings back many fond cricket memories of the 2000s. The tall New Zealander has strong India connections. His Test debut was against India in the eventful India tour of New Zealand in 2002, and he made an immediate impact by dismissing Sachin Tendulkar in the first session of the Test. Later in his career, he went on to have happy memories with The Master in the Mumbai Indians camp and prior to that he played a few seasons for the successful Chennai Super Kings. Even after retirement, his love affair with India continues. We will come to that later. Meanwhile, New Zealand have arrived in India for a full tour. All set for the post-Brendon McCullum era, the new-look Kiwi side is captained by Kane Williamson and comprises a bunch of exciting young players.

New Zealand have a good mix of youth and experience. Though India will start favourites due to favourable home conditions, one can surely expect a good contest. The young all-rounders like Mitchell Santner and James Neesham are expected to shine, and while talking about all-rounders, Oram was in India in late August to promote a cricket course. In a career spanning over a decade, Oram (now 38) has played 33 Tests, 160 ODIs and 36 TT20Is from 2001 to 2012. He is regarded as one of the finest all-rounders to have played for New Zealand.

Batting, bowling or fielding, Oram, standing almost two meters tall, has won numerous matches for the Black Caps and is now currently baby steps towards coaching. During his visit to India, CricketCountry caught up with him, who expressed his views on his cricket coaching initiative Leading Edge, injury management, his ambitions of becoming a chef, New Zealand s tour of India and more.

CricketCountry (CC): It is a cricket course with Massey University that brings you here. Can you elaborate a bit on this programme?

Jacob Oram (JO): Towards the beginning of 2016, Massey University ran a small course which consists of cricket, education and sightseeing. The programme is called Leading Edge. It will give students the opportunity to train and play cricket and study sports-related subjects that Massey offers (sports psychology, nutrition, fitness, sports management are a few examples). At the same time, you get to experience the beauty of New Zealand through cultural and sightseeing activities.

CC: What led to the thought of Leading Edge? How exactly an Indian student will benefit?

JO: Leading Edge began after a feasibility study looking into the pros and cons of starting some sort of a cricket academy/programme in Palmerston North (where Massey has a campus). Palmerston North has some great cricket resources facilities and personnel and when you combine the attraction of Massey and its courses, it seemed like a viable idea to offer something in the field of cricket and education.

Education NZ has also been instrumental in providing us with research, advice and feedback.

CC: What age group are you primarily looking at?

JO: We are targeting two age groups: 16-to-18 year-olds and an 18-plus group.

CC: What is the batch size that you are aiming at? Is it an annual programme?

JO: Ideally we would like 20 to 22 students per group. Obviously, the higher the numbers the lower the costs, so if numbers decrease per group then costs would rise unfortunately. Leading Edge is offered all year around but obviously more can be done outside, under the sun, if groups come across in New Zealand’s warmer months between October and April.

CC: Having played a bit of amateur cricket in New Zealand, I can say the conditions are vastly different. You rose through various age-groups, then the Under-19 ranks, played in different conditions before making it big. This tour provides aspiring Indian cricketers an exposure to the same at a budding stage. Do you think there should be more of such exchange programmes?

JO: If you really want to be a world-class cricketer, you need to be able to play in all conditions around the world. Leading Edge provides young subcontinent cricketers with the ability to experience completely different conditions in New Zealand to what they experience back home.

In New Zealand there is generally more grass on the pitches, they bounce more, have more pace and spin does not play such a big role. Because of this cricketers who partake in Leading Edge will appreciate those differences and can start to develop game plans that they may need if they ever come back to New Zealand on full international tours.

CC: We have seen cricket at higher education level. Auckland University of Technology ran one, as did Eastern Institute of Technology and University of West Indies in Barbados. Is this the way forward?

JO: I am not sure you can definitively say that University-based programmes are the way forward for developing cricketers, but these programmes give students the chance to take part in classes and lectures while at the same time training and playing.

Post-cricket life is so important in today s world, so to have a qualification or career path already worked out is critical to successful transitioning from player to former player. Studying while playing also gives life balance, which creates a more well-rounded person.

CC: From playing to coaching, take us through this transition? Is it something you want to pursue long-term? Will we soon see Jacob Oram coaching the Black Caps or any IPL side?

JO: I obviously love cricket and want to remain involved in some capacity. I have dabbled in a bit of TV work but am currently more involved in the sport through coaching. The reason for this shift is that I see coaching the more constructive option of the two and is a pathway that I would prefer following.

In New Zealand there are very few full-time coaching opportunities; so rather than wait for an opportunity to fall into my lap, I am working at Massey to provide for my family, while still keeping my toes dipped in the coaching pool. I would love to pursue coaching further but I am also comfortable in what I am currently doing. Of course if an IPL franchise knocked on the door…

CC: The New Zealand cricket team is here. The countdown for the first Test has begun. In the ICC World T20 earlier this year, the Kiwi side pulled up a surprise when you beat India in their game of spin. However, Tests will pose a different challenge and do you think this New Zealand side can pose the desired threat?

JO: It will be tough because surviving against and scoring off quality spin bowling is a very hard thing to do over a five-day Test. In saying all that, I do think we have a very good chance as I would not say India is as scary as they were, say, two or three years back. They are obviously still a quality side but with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and seamers like Zaheer Khan gone, they are a different unit.

If New Zealand can find a way to get on top of the spin threat, they have a chance. Over the past few years this New Zealand team has gone to another level and keep surprising the doubters, so I am hoping that continues.

CC: New Zealand’s strength for a while has been the Trent Boult-Tim Southee combo with the ball and Kane Williamson-Ross Taylor partnership with the bat. India will present different conditions altogether. Where do you see the Kiwi strength?

JO: Same areas you identify. The two swing bowlers are world-class and with Williamson and Taylor at 3 and 4 that is as good as it gets in world cricket I reckon. The key will be those four guys performing to the standards that they have set recently, and then getting quality performances out of the likes of Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner and Mitchell Santner.

CC: India will definitely start favourites because of home conditions. Don t you think the teams are similar in many ways? Two world-class batsmen, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson leading a bunch of young and talented men…

JO: Yes and no. I agree that India are favourites solely because of conditions but things will be reversed if this series was in New Zealand.

CC: The last time New Zealand played a Test series in India sans Sachin Tendulkar was in 1988. Now Kohli has emerged. What is the major difference that you see in these two master batsmen?

JO: Both are unbelievable players and both with skills that most players do not possess. Sachin was a one of a kind but Kohli is the current player that I would pay to watch. He has all the shots, can play a finesse game yet has power, and plays pace and spin equally as well. Others in that category are Joe Root, Steven Smith, Williamson and AB de Villiers.

I do think we have a very good chance as I would not say India is as scary as they were, say, two or three years back. They are obviously still a quality side but with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and seamers like Zaheer Khan gone, they are a different unit.

CC: From the Ahmedabad Test in 2003 to many limited-overs games and IPL, you have played a lot in India. How different a challenge India poses? Take us through your experience.

JO: Everything is just so different to New Zealand: the heat, humidity, crowd noise, and of course the pitch conditions dry, not much grass, little seam and bounce. But that is the challenge of playing away from home and why winning in the subcontinent is so hard to do. It is a massive challenge but I am confident that New Zealand has a chance.

CC: You have 6 international hundreds and over 250 international wickets. You could just pluck anything that was in the air. Leading Edge students will be delighted to learn from a man who knows it all. But do you think the advent of T20Is has played a role in reducing quality all-rounders in Test cricket? Lot of good all-rounders are just limited-overs specialists.

JO: No I think it is almost the opposite. I think that T20 cricket has helped develop the multi-skilled player as they are so important to the balance of a team. Well, any team really. I do think that there are plenty of medium-fast seamers and power-hitting all-rounders in the game today, and while that is a good thing and it can also be a detriment as they will be run into the ground due to them being so valuable to their franchise or international teams.

All-rounders get injured a lot so they need to be managed correctly, and maybe T20 cricket is sacrificed there.

CC: Who currently do you think is the best all-rounder?

JO: England have a couple of really good players in Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, while New Zealand have some guys coming through who are young enough and good enough to be around for a while; Santner, Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham. Mitchell Marsh looks a good player as well.

CC: Do you think Ravichandran Ashwin has it in him to join the big league of all-rounders?

JO: Definitely. In fact he is probably already there. Obviously his bowling talents are well known but he now he is starting to fulfil the batting talent that has always been evident. Once he really gets the consistency with both bat and ball he will definitely be a really good international all-rounder.

CC: You touched on the injury part. Injuries have hampered a major part of your career but you always managed to overcome them. What is your advice to youngsters and current professionals on injury management?

JO: Listen to the specialists and take their advice, but at the same time, without disrespecting them, make sure you have a say in your rehabilitation plan. It is your body and your career so you need to take accountability for the path you choose. Plus, you need to be bloody-minded and self-motivated to keep going to the physio and doing tedious rehab exercises.

CC: New Zealand played the first pink-ball Test. In India, the Duleep Trophy this year was a pink-ball affair. There were also talks about India-New Zealand playing a pink-ball Test that did not materialise. What is your opinion on pink-ball Tests?

JO: Commercially I see the benefits and I appreciate that any commercial upside has benefits for players, which is a good thing. However, from an ex-player s point of view I am not convinced. I know times change and all that, but it will change so much about Test cricket to play with a pink ball and half the match being under lights. I can see aspects like pitch deterioration and reverse swing being lost.

CC: Time for a Rapid Fire. What were your ambitions as a young boy?

JO: Become a chef. Be a dog trainer.

CC: Your role models?

JO: I did not have any.

CC: Your favourite music?

JO: Anything from old school stuff. Bee Gees and Elton John through to current music, the likes of Maroon 5, Bruno Mars

JO: Your favourite sport outside cricket?

CC: Baseball.

CC: Mr Oram travels the world: what excites his palate?

JO: Returning home.

CC: Favourite country to travel?

JO: USA.

CC: Your best buddy from the dressing room.

JO: Daniel Vettori, Kyle Mills, James Franklin, and Daryl Tuffey.

CC: Best batsman you have bowled to?

JO: The whole Australian top order from about 2007ish.

CC: Best bowler you have played?

JO: Muttiah Muralitharan.

CC: Your happiest cricket moment?

JO: A century at Lord s.

CC: Batting, bowling or fielding?

JO: Fielding.

CC: Tests, ODIs or T20Is?

JO: Tests.

CC: Prediction for India-New Zealand series?

JO: A draw.

CC: Brendon McCullum or MS Dhoni?

JO: Very similar, but obviously McCullum because I am a New Zealander.

CC: Kane Williamson or Virat Kohli?

JO: Williamson.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)