Jacob Oram is one of the most underrated test allrounders to play the game, and was closer to Chris Cairns and Andrew Flintoff than most, even in New Zealand, would think at first glance. He should have gone on to be one of the great allrounders alongside those two, but he didn't.
I've been watching a lot of him on youtube lately (videos to follow) and I love how good this bloke was. At his peak in the mid 2000s the only allrounder who was a better batsman than him was Jacques Kallis.
I'll get the silly stats out of the way first. At one stage averaged in the middle forties with the bat, and look at the attacks he took on - 2 hundreds and a 90 against South Africa from 7 tests, one against Australia from 2 tests and 1 against England from 8 tests. He also has a 97 against Pakistan. If I wanted to indulge in cute statistical manipulation to suit my argument (and I do) I'd exclude his best friend Murali from the equation and his first series against India on the pitches Ganguly cried about to push his career average from 36 to 43.
He mauled a Pakistan containing a rampant Shoaib who would have skittled us if not for he and Richardson before being robbed of his first test hundred by Shabbir the thrower (Shoiab took 11 in the match and Pakistan won by a lot), he scored a hundred and a 90 against Pollock, Ntini and co when they toured here (Cairns and Oram in partnership fap fap fap) and his efforts were vital to our good series against them, gave Pollock, Ntini and a young Steyn some grief at Centurion with another big ton coming in at 4/38 (we lost that game by a lot) and had his crowning moment of glory against McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and Kaspa, rescuing New Zealand from 180/6 in style and being 126* at the end (we lost that game by even more).
That was the end of the glory days, he just had one more ton bullying Bangladesh before helping New Zealand draw at Lords 2008 despite his confidence being in ruins against the short ball and looking a mess in general.
It's a travesty he played his last test at just 31 years old. He's only 35 now, and should still be playing or just retired. When he first arrived on the scene he was a big allrounder who could bang it in at over 140 at times and bat with maturity beyond his experience. What happened? Well the bowling is easy - injuries happened, and reduced him to a miserly medium pacer who extracted good bounce with deliveries that hit the bat hard but were no better than excellent 4th seamer material. His batting is more mystifying. He never was a technician, and he appears a forerunner to Neesham and Ryder in that respect, but his eye was so incredible it didn't bother him as he happily went about scoring runs against world class bowlers not called Murali. You could say he was found out, but with respect to some of the attacks he faced later on if an attack is going to show you how much you suck it's probably going to be mid 2000s Australia or South Africa, or a Shoiab yorker. There wasn't really much to find out to begin with - he saw the ball, he played the ball. It was not slogging, there's plenty of timing and stroking in the video below. He was adept at playing the ball on its merits despite his reputation as a big hitter.
Did his eyes desert him? Maybe, after the 2007 world cup he was never the same batsman again, but it wasn't like he was long in the tooth either. 29/30 is a very young age for your eyes to go. A loss in confidence? Maybe. He was a gentleman to the media, but there was a sense he never truly believed in himself as much as he could, though this could be coloured by Nathan Astle making the same assessment of him in his autobiography. During his long decline he made a lot of noises about wanting to be back home with his wife and son rather than on tour. He also had huge shoes to fill, and frequently protested he was not the next Chris Cairns but the first Jacob Oram. In a way he had as much pressure on his shoudlers as the line of poor sods touted as the next Martin Crowe.
A loss of hunger, love for the game, and a shift in priorities then? Could be. All I know is it is a crying shame he's remembered for the ODI dobbler who hit that hundred in an ODI once rather than the beast of a test match allrounder he was. When diagnosing why the late 00s team sucked (quickly summarised as having **** players), the loss of Fleming, Bond, the revolving door of opening batsmen and Ryder being a drunk are the conventional answers but this bloke rarely gets a mention despite being the perfect candidate for completing a h4x 6-8 of Oram-McCullum-Vettori which would have created even more jailbreak shenanigans in partnership with Taylor than it already did. Instead our number sixes were often James Franklin or Grant Elliott.
He retired with the same number of test hundreds as Chris Cairns and Andrew Flintoff from half the matches. He retired as the ex-football goalie who was brilliant in the field, a team man who joked about cutting his fingers off to make the world cup and always conducted himself with grace in the media despite being called soft and weak every five minutes by fat 40 year old men from their armchairs. But he also faded into a limited overs bits and pieces player who didn't really want to be there, and that makes Phlegm sad. If he had played for a team that wasn't the test cricket fashion equivalent of a brown paper bag people would actually care about him.
Here's to Jacob Oram, one of the most underrated cricketers and unfulfilled talents to don the whites. Oram WAG.