Top Performer - Jacob Oram January 31, 2007

Nobody's substitute

Brydon Coverdale on New Zealand's man of the moment, Jacob Oram



Jacob Oram hits in the 'V' once again, as he mows a 71-ball hundred against Australia © Getty Images
Just over a week ago, an Australian newspaper referred to Jacob Oram as a "poor man's Chris Cairns". Five days later Oram used the backhanded compliment as inspiration to achieve something Cairns never did: he smashed a limited-overs century against Australia.

His unbeaten 101 from 72 deliveries just failed to get New Zealand over the line in their mammoth chase of 344 but his clean striking straight down the ground was enough to make the Perth crowd sit up and take notice after a lacklustre opening to the CB Series. What was especially impressive was the apparent ease with which he put three of Australia's best bowlers - Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken - not just over the rope but well into the WACA stands.

His 71-ball century was the fastest by a New Zealander and was four deliveries quicker than Cairns' best. It was also a considerably better effort than anything Cairns ever mustered against Australia. Cairns made four ODI centuries but his top score against Australia was 67, and for that he faced a second-string attack led by Andy Bichel, Adam Dale and Gavin Robertson.

Oram's 101 has been bookended by an 89-ball 86 against England - which sat as his highest limited-overs score for five days - and a crushing 54 from 33 deliveries as New Zealand set up another chase for England. And all this having joined the squad barely a week ago after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Unlike some of the other cleanest strikers in world cricket - Adam Gilchrist, for example, who is devastating through point and pulling over midwicket - Oram's biggest hits are reserved for the 'V'. He can pick up the length of a ball in an instant; long-off and long-on take a pounding and the odd bowler or umpire could need danger money when Oram goes dead straight.

His ability to wait until the right moment to launch his blitz is evidence of a mature cricketing brain. Oram doesn't try to smash every ball as soon as he reaches the crease. He knows how to turn the strike over and set up a platform from which to power home in the final few overs of an innings, as he did with his 86 and 54 (the 101 was a monster chase and a slightly different situation).

But he's more than a late-overs slogger. One of his best strokes against Monty Panesar at Adelaide was a technically correct reverse-sweep - inasmuch as that shot can be called correct - for four. Whereas some batsmen premeditate the shot, he picked the line, played the stroke specifically to find the gap in the field and timed it better than 99% of reverse-sweeps.

Oram has always been a handy batsman but his latest results suggest something has changed and he no longer is content with a couple of sixes here or a cameo there. He has strung together three consecutive fifty-plus scores, having achieved the feat only three times in the 87 games he played before this CB Series. Throw in some solid performances at the Champions Trophy and his 2006-07 rates very highly: he averages 65.60 from six games compared to a career average of 22.32.

Although batting consistency was not previously a hallmark of his game, Oram could not have timed his run better as the struggling New Zealand line-up was searching desperately for runs before he arrived in Australia. Almost singlehandedly - although Lou Vincent and Ross Taylor have played their parts - Oram has made the CB Series semi-competitive again.

If his form and fitness hold out, he will be one to watch at the World Cup and could have a big hand in determining how far New Zealand can go in the tournament. For now, the poor man's Chris Cairns is making New Zealand cricket richer by the day.

The numbers game His 71-ball century against Australia on Sunday was the fastest ODI hundred by a New Zealander.

What they say "He is a fine player. He can strike the ball as well as anyone in world cricket." Stephen Fleming.

"He is a very clean hitter and strong bloke. It seems like his mis-hits go for six. He's in the same category as Andrew Symonds." Adam Gilchrist.

What he says (on his record-breaking century) "I haven't hit it that well for that duration. There's been little cameos of 30-40 when I've hit it pretty well but five or six sixes, I was pretty happy with that."

Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant of Cricinfo