'The draft system has evened the teams out'
New Zealand's Jacob Oram is currently in Sri Lanka, playing for Uva Next in the ongoing Sri Lanka Premier League. With seven wickets and 41 runs from four games and the best economy rate in the tournament so far, Oram has been one of the key players in Uva's campaign. On Tuesday night Oram will take part in the first semi-final against Wayamba - one of the strongest sides in the tournament. Oram took time out to speak to ESPNcricinfo's Andrew Fernando about the playing in the SLPL, the nature of the pitches during the tournament, the lack of big crowds and more.
How has the SLPL experience been so far?
It's been good because we've kept winning and we're in the semifinals. Off the field as well, I've made some good friends. That's one of the good things about these Twenty20 leagues. People talk about the financial benefits and the Champions League, but to play with guys you've only ever played against and to get to know them better is pretty cool. Also everything from the hotels to the grounds, to the buses have been first class, so I can't complain so far.
You've played in the IPL and the HRV cup, how does the SLPL compare?
I guess it's different from the IPL and HRV cup, because we've only played in two venues in Colombo and Pallekele, so it's not like you've kind of been on tour, while with those other tournaments you feel like you are. You'd usually also have a home venue every second game, so that's been a big difference, to be based in one area for a week at a time. There are benefits to having a home venue, because you get to have a home crowd and you get to know your own home conditions. But I suppose being a first year, and trying to get a good following by having it in two places, it's [the SLPL format] kind of worked.
Have you found the pitches sporting for bowlers?
A lot more so than I thought. The one here in Colombo is starting to turn more and it's slower; for instance Wayamba played three or four spinners in their last game, so it's getting to the state I expected most pitches to be. Where we played in Pallekele though, it was like bowling in New Zealand - pretty good for seamers.
The SLPL used a draft system with pre-contracted players, rather than an auction. It's a system that is supposed to create more even teams and better competition, but how have you found it?
(Laughs) I missed out on the draft, so the draft sucks just like the IPL auction, because I miss out all the time. But in all fairness, the draft has been there to spread the talent, and it's kind of done that. You haven't seen a team apart from Wayamba really dominate, and even then they could have lost a game or two that they did win. Apart from that, everyone else has been about the same, and I think that's been the benefit of the draft, that they've been able to spread the talent out and make teams more even.
The feedback I've heard for not being picked up is that I scare people off with my age and fitness, and I can completely understand that, because I scare myself off.
Have poor crowds at most of the games been disappointing?
I don't think it's impacted the cricket. I was expecting bigger crowds, but let's see what it's like in the semi-finals and final. We had a good day up in Pallekele where we had a double header there. Maybe the paying public are saving their rupees for the Twenty20 World Cup. I know last year after the 50-over World Cup, crowds were down in the IPL and they guessed that it was because people spent their money and watched their cricket during the World Cup, the IPL was on a downer. Maybe the reverse is happening here.
Since the SLPL is played in only two venues, only two of the seven teams have had a chance to play in the provinces they represent. Have you had much interaction with fans from the Uva province?
We haven't really. We've had some interaction with pockets of fans when they've come to the games and when they've turned up here at the hotel , but not to a great extent. If this tournament expands and suddenly you can have home venues, you can actually connect with your fans and hopefully get bigger crowds as well. If the facilities aren't there then I don't think we should just go to the provinces, but maybe if we did one or two days out in our province, or did a three-day camp before the tournament, that could be a good compromise.
Where do you think the tournament can improve?
It was disappointing that some of the biggest names, like Chris Gayle, were injured. It's always good to get those marquee names, and that could have got another five thousand people [in the stadium]. Likewise, the Pakistan boys going home for their series half-way through the tournament. Things like that, you can't shy away from, and I'm not blaming the organisers, but when you get the big names, it's nice to have them here for the whole time.
Would you recommend it to other players in the New Zealand dressing room?
Without a doubt. But you've got to find that balance I suppose. We do play a lot of international cricket - guys like Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor, who play all forms of the game, play a lot of cricket any way. Their one vice, or their one opportunity to go outside the New Zealand playing programme is to go and play at the IPL for six to seven weeks. I think if you start throwing the Bangladesh Premier League, Sri Lanka Premier League and the Big Bash League, you're not going to have any time off anyway. So while I would recommend it, I don't know how many guys would pick up on it. But for guys like myself who aren't in all three formats, whether it's either by selection or retirement, I'd definitely recommend it.
You've bowled yourself into pretty good form ahead of the World Twenty20. How has the SLPL been in terms of preparation for that?
One of the reasons I really wanted to come here in the first place, before the draft, was that it's the perfect preparation for the Twenty20 World Cup. 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.
Finally, you played some important innings with the bat for New Zealand at the start of your career, but now you're more of a bowling specialist. Why has your playing role changed?
Being injured a lot didn't help, because it meant I was on the couch more often than on the field. Borne out of that was frustration and a lack of confidence because I wasn't on the field, and when I was on the field, I was probably trying too hard to succeed. When that didn't work it sort of snowballed and I think it was just a combination of injuries, time away from the game and also, when I couldn't find that form or that rhythm, my confidence waned as well. While I still really saw myself as a true allrounder, it was pretty tough mentally to accept that it wasn't going to be that way. But after a while I thought, 'I'm still in the team, I've slipped down the batting order, I'm maybe I'm not doing the role I once did, but I'm still getting picked for New Zealand and that's the bottom line'. Then I had to change my focus and if you looked at my numbers in the last 12-18 months, apart from Tim Southee maybe and Kyle Mills, I've been right up there in the one-day format.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka