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Andrew Fernando in Pallekele
September 26, 2012
Jacob Oram's Sri Lanka Premier League stint was a stroke of good fortune. He had made himself available for the draft, but none of the teams much liked the idea of an aging, fragile seam bowler on their payroll. Oram's batting had lost its lustre since his youth and though he had become a wily limited-overs operator since, he is hardly a cricketer that will daunt opponents - even in a domestic tournament. Thankfully for him, New Zealand teammate James Franklin had his Test career resuscitated, and the Uva Next franchise were short of one player who could contribute in both disciplines. Oram, who was called up days before the tournament began, became one of the league's standout players and an integral part of Uva Next's victorious campaign over the next three weeks.
What made him so potent, Uva Next captain Thilina Kandamby said, was bowling with the new ball - an opportunity he does not often get when playing for his country. At the top of the innings, he was parsimony personified. Oram found an effective length on the reforged Sri Lanka pitches that suddenly favoured seam bowlers, and plugged away predictably. The extra movement and improved bounce made him difficult to get away, and he reaped a tournament record of 11 wickets with a barely believable economy rate of 3.82. Though he has not been at his best in the group matches in the World Twenty20, Oram will hope the confidence and experience from his SLPL exploits will aid his cause in the current tournament, because that was the point.
"One of the reasons I wanted to come here was that it's the perfect preparation for the World Twenty20," Oram had said.
"Missing out on the tournament initially was disappointing, because it meant preparing for the World Twenty20 indoors in New Zealand's winter, which is obviously not ideal preparation. Once I got picked up as a late replacement, it was the ideal scenario to have a month over here before the World Cup, that is in these conditions, so it really couldn't be any better."
Oram's involvement in the SLPL was also something of a reconnaissance exercise for New Zealand. He had hoped to collect information about the changed conditions to notify the New Zealand camp, and as captain Ross Taylor said on the eve of New Zealand's Super Eights match against Sri Lanka, Oram's knowledge was proving handy to his side's preparation.
"He's been telling us about the local players we might not have heard much of as well," Taylor said. "He was probably the form bowler [in the SLPL], and he plays a vital role in our team as well. Wickets are probably a bit flatter than when he played, and it's a different time of the year. But he's a key part of our team and hopefully he can replicate that form that he showed in the Sri Lanka Premier League."
New Zealand may also have insight into the better known players in the Sri Lankan side, with several of them having played alongside Sri Lanka players in the IPL. Taylor, who played for the Delhi Daredevils alongside Mahela Jayawardene said it could be an advantage to have that knowledge of an opponent's game, but was wary of the knowledge Sri Lanka players would be bringing to the encounter as well.
"You learn a lot about those players, but the flipside is, they know a lot about you too," Taylor said. "It's tit-for-tat when it comes to that. It's an exciting time. It's always nice to play the host country when it comes to the World Cup. They are going to be a tough opposition, but we have some form players who are doing well at the moment, so it's time for some of the other players to step up and contribute to a team win."
New Zealand head to the Super Eights, like they have often done, as unlikely semi-final candidates. On paper, they are thoroughly inferior to Sri Lanka in both the batting and bowling. If they are to inflict an upset on Thursday to begin a familiar underdogs' charge to the knockout stages, they must gain an advantage in whatever peripheral area they can. Perhaps knowledge of conditions that aren't altogether familiar to the home side either, and an understanding of their opponents' game will give New Zealand the edge to run Sri Lanka close.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri LankaFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
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