Allrounders 'unsustainable' in modern game
Jacob Oram is prepared to stand down from the New Zealand Test side to extend his career as an allrounder in the more lucrative limited overs formats. Oram, who this week watched his Chennai team-mate Andrew Flintoff return to England for yet another round of surgery, believes the physical demands on allrounders are such that many will be forced to give up one form of the game, or one skill set.
"At the moment, with what I do, I know it's not sustainable," Oram told Cricinfo. "I am 30, and I have the passion and desire to play well into my mid-30s, but to be honest, with the way things have been going, that is not going to happen unless something gives.
"I have talked to people about giving up bowling, or bowling in as few forms of the game as possible. I haven't talked about this publicly before, but if I had to choose one thing, I would probably give up Test cricket before bowling. I have played eight years of international cricket and being an allrounder is part of who I am. To give up the bowling - it's just not me, not what I do. I think it would be giving up Tests before I gave up being an allrounder.
"I love playing Test cricket. That said, when you speak to your friends and family about your situation, it seems pretty obvious to them: you'll either have to give up Test cricket, or greatly reduce your bowling workload. Ideally, you wouldn't want to give up either of those things, but if you look at what is happening to players around the world at the moment, it is going to happen more and more. In Test cricket, I would be looking to bowl 15-20 overs a day. I might be able to get through one or two Tests, or even string it out for a series, but the chances are that it won't last for any great length of time.
"I don't know when I will have to make that decision. It could be in six months, 12 months or two years. I would love to keep going as an allrounder in all forms of the game, but I realise that's a bit of a double-edged sword. If I was to do so, I would pretty much halve the time I have left in the game. And, from recent experience, I can say that sitting on the sidelines for several months a year watching your team-mates play is mentally and emotionally draining."
Crammed international schedules and the explosion of the high-intensity 20-over format have exacted a tremendous physical toll on cricket's leading allrounders. Along with Oram and Flintoff, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson and Ashley Noffke have all spent extended periods on the sidelines in the past year, and are now making tentative steps towards comebacks.
Oram missed the recent Test series against India with an Achilles injury, and realises he must substantially reduce his workload in future if, as per his wishes, he is to play into his mid-30s. The sight of Flintoff leaving the Chennai Super Kings camp for the final time on Friday served as a poignant and depressing reminder of the strains on all-rounders, particularly given that the pair had discussed that very topic in the days before the Englishman tore the meniscus in his right knee.
"I felt extremely sorry for the guy," Oram said. "We had a couple of extremely good chats while we were here about our game, our bodies and how the public and media perceive injuries. Sometimes, it feels like a critique on your character as much as it is about your body. I don't think anyone here has any doubts about his character, because we all saw how hard he was working. To me, it just highlighted the fact that being an allrounder is a tough job.
"The obvious answer is to cut down on games, but it's hard to see that happening. Maybe there needs to be more rotating of allrounders and fast bowlers - leaving them out of certain series, or something like that - but I know that would not go down well with certain players. Perhaps they need to unearth guys at a younger age and have more allrounders in the pool - maybe three or four of them - so there is not so much focus on one main guy. Another thing might be to start having specialist Test or ODI-T20 allrounders. And that could go for fast bowlers too."
Oram has played 31 Tests and 130 one-day internationals for New Zealand, but makes no apologies for prioritising Twenty20 cricket in the twilight years of his career. The $US675,000 for which Oram was purchased in the initial IPL auction was by far the most lucrative contract of his career, and has allowed him to set a financial base for his family.
"I could lie to you and say it's not about [money]," he said. "But with the doors that have been opened in the IPL, the Southern Premier League, and I'm now reading an APL, it is a chance to set yourself up. The TV deals and the sponsorships in those kind of tournaments have changed things, and I know that is something people do not necessarily want to hear. But I am 30, have played international cricket for eight years, and am getting to the point where it's time to think about how you are placed financially, and how you will look after your family in the years to come.
"The pride that goes into representing your country goes without saying. But the reality is in today's game, you get paid when you're playing, and while that might be a bit of a taboo subject - and people want to hear it's all about wearing your national colours - it has to be understood that this is our career, and we also have mortgages, bills and families to feed. Ideally, I want to play all the cricket I can for as long as I can, but something has to give."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo