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'Spin bowling is one of the strongest skills I've seen in the women's game' - Jacob Oram

New Zealand women's bowling coach talks about the health, growth and nuances of women's cricket from his perspective

Jacob Oram, the former New Zealand men's allrounder and an experienced T20 freelancer, returned to work with the women's national team as bowling coach in early 2018. As New Zealand gear up to face Australia in a virtual quarter-final at the ongoing women's T20 World Cup at Melbourne's Junction Oval on Monday, ESPNcricinfo sat down with Oram to assess the health, growth and nuances of women's cricket from his perspective.
You joined the national team as a bowling coach in March 2018 after a brief stint earlier, in 2014-15. What made you consider a second tenure with them?
I was in the previous role for not longer than about 10 months and then other commitments for work outside of cricket. Then another opportunity within cricket came up, so I decided to depart from the White Ferns (New Zealand women's cricket team). The way the women's game had gone, not only our team specifically, with some good young talent coming through the whole landscape of the women's game was changing, evolving for the better, more resource and money going into it, and the big T20 leagues and franchise leagues around the world. So, it was a really good chance to get back involved. Whether it's male or female, it's high performance cricket. You're dealing with good athletes on the world stage.
Did your experience as the Manawatu women's coach from 2016-18 facilitate your comeback into the national team's set-up?
The Manawatu opportunity was, again, female cricket, but it was a world away from the level we are [right now] obviously. But the experience I had with the White Ferns back in 2014-15 helped me with that Manawatu role, and that in turn helped me come back into the women's game and understanding that men and women are very different - as human beings, not just as cricketers. So it helped me transition nicely into this role.
Given you've had experience across the board in top-flight men's and women's cricket, have you observed any inherent standout feature in female quick bowlers aside from the physiological difference?
The main difference between the men's and women's game is, obviously, the pace and the power difference, although I'm no biomechanics or physiological expert. The spin bowling is one of the strongest skills I've seen in women's game - very smart, very skillful, but the actual intricacies of seam bowling we try to preach in particular is the accuracy and consistency. The pace is not going to be 140kph or 150 kph like you see with Mitchell Starc, Lockie Ferguson, Jofra Archer. It's not going to be there, but that's cool. You work with what you've got. If Lea Tahuhu in our team [considered among the fastest in women's international cricket] can hit the mid-120s, I mean that is fast enough. Combined with a bit of shape, swing and bounce and good areas, we're going to be in the money in the context of the women's game. I don't think it's necessarily comparing men's and women's seam bowling; it's just working towards what you got.
What are the most frequently used variations in women's fast bowling you've seen?
I think there are two types of variations: the slower ball or the length of that variation as well. By that, I mean a yorker or a bouncer. The slower ball is vitally important; you've got to make sure the difference in speed between your normal pace and slower ball is sufficient to create confusion for the batter rather than it being 2-3 kmph slowers. It should be at least 10 kmph slower.
"The least used variation among all I have seen is the bouncer and I think it's actually something that could play a part [more often] in the women's game because it's not often used."
Jacob Oram
Who are the best users of the slower ball in your view?
From New Zealand, Hayley Jensen has got a really good slower ball. Probably giving away no secrets, there's videos around everywhere, probably the knuckleball - a lot of bowlers bowl the knuckleball, but Hayley bowls it really well, and Jess Kerr, who's new in the side. She's got a really good slower ball with her action. I mentioned about the bouncer before with Lea's pace, she can get the ball up; she's got a good bouncer, as does, to be fair, Sophie Devine and others as well.
Is there a variation you think more female quicks could use more often in the near future?
The least used variation among all I have seen is the bouncer and I think it's actually something that could play a part [more often] in the women's game because it's not often used. It doesn't matter what pace it is. Even if you bowl upto shoulder height or above, then you're making the batter swing at a different plane, with the bat coming through the air and it having to go through the air. And the higher it is, without it [the delivery] becoming a wide, of course, the harder it is to control. [In the New Zealand team] We've talked a lot about getting a higher bouncer in our repertoire. I wouldn't say we've mastered it, but we're on that continuum to get there.
All factors considered, is it fair and realistic to expect women's fast bowlers to aspire to hit the 130 or 135kph mark?
I don't think it's unfair [although] not everyone is going to be able to do that. I mean I never bowled express pace at 150kph, but it didn't mean I didn't try to bowl as fast as I could. And that's the key, no matter what. In our team, with Rosemary Mair, Hayley Jensen, Lea Tahuhu, we try to extract maximum effort, power, pace whatever that's to be [extracted] out of them, whether it is a 110, 120 or 130kmph. It's a strength and conditioning component, so it's basically a fitness foundation, being strong and fit enough to maintain that over a period of time.
That said, there are also technical factors, and that's where it comes back to the skills coach. It's a combination, but absolutely, you want to have your bowlers firing as quick as they can but with the balance right and bowling in quality areas; you don't want them to spray around or lose their radar just because they are trying to bowl as quick as they can.
A long-standing argument around the women's game, batting in general, is that it's more prone to collapses. New Zealand, for example, had one against Bangladesh. Is that a valid argument?
Yes, both our team and Bangladesh had a batting collapse the other day. I would like to think both sides, especially the slow bowling, was very strong and spin bowling can dominate the women's game. Especially when conditions suit - the wickets are a little bit slower, they take turn - it's very hard to score as it is in the men's game as well, especially when the western sides travel to the subcontinent and they get wickets like that, it's hard to score, you lose wickets quickly, blah blah blah, and you suddenly have a collapse.
I don't think you see it as much as probably people think; stats might prove me completely wrong there, but if you get the top-tier nations playing against each other, I don't think you see, like the other day [we] got 90, [they] made 75 or whatever it was. It's not great scoring but if you don't see that often to be fair. If you've got Australia against South Africa or a New Zealand, England or whoever it may be, it's fair to say you don't see it often. Maybe developing nations might see it more often, the likes of Pakistan or Bangladesh the other day or Thailand. But they are developing. In five years' time, they'll be out there with the tier-one nations. I see it as being a blip in the radar; once they get the exposure, the experience, they'll get going.
Beaming the focus to the New Zealand team, you've now worked with three full-time captains - all of them allrounders: Suzie Bates, Amy Satterthwaite, and now Devine. How different are they personality- and skills- and leadership-wise?
They're all very different; that's what I have learnt. And, obviously, I am not over the rope with them in the field, and I think that's a massive part of the captaincy and leadership role, so I can only talk about what I see at trainings, team meetings and the changing room. Suzie is just a gifted player and one of the nicest human beings you'll meet; not that the other two aren't (smiles). But that's just her; Suzie is a big part of the soul of the team. With the music playing, she should be singing or dancing and on the field, she has always led by example.
Amy only had a year or so in the job before pregnancy, but she's a real tactician. She's a lot more softly spoken, but that's her as a person as well. And when she spoke, you really had to listen and concentrate on those words. She's quite articulate.
And then you have Sophie: she's a heart-on-your-sleeve type person, drops a few more f-bombs (chuckles) on the loud side of it, but that is who she is. And that's the beauty of Sophie; just look at the way she bats or bowls. She's got power in her game, loves to bowl the bouncer, is aggressive in the field and will throw herself around. That is the way she captains as well: very attacking, aggressive, risk-taking. Not many risks, but she's willing to take chances. So, each of these three players have their pros and cons, but at the moment it's going okay under Sophie.
Devine has had a phenomenal run with the bat in the recent past, including a record six T20I 50-plus scores on the trot across men's or women's cricket.
Given I don't deal much with the batting, [I'm] not sure what's clicked with her in this amazing purple patch. I think sometimes it's the confidence that comes with it; I don't really think it is form as such. It's more about having that ability, have time at the wicket day in and day out and have that confidence to walk out feeling obviously pretty good about your game. The flip side is you get a few low scores, you wonder where your next run is coming from. She must be very calm mentally when she goes out to bat.
Another thing is she plays 8-9-10 months of cricket as part of her job. That's really required in terms of preparation but also what she needs to do to perform well. It's almost like autopilot. She knows what she has to do.
What has working with head coach Bob Carter, who formerly coached Canterbury, been like?
I played under Bob with the Black Caps going back many years when he was assistant coach to John Bracewell. We maybe had four or five years under Bob in the past, we've crossed paths domestically in New Zealand as well. He's a very knowledgeable coach, given how experienced he is. The reason he's doing well with the White Ferns, even though our performances haven't really shown that, but I think he has a nice blend of being harsh but also being firm in fear. He's had to had give pretty strong messages to individuals in terms of selection but also team performances we've had. But it's been done at the right time, it's been constructive. So, there's a firm side in him and fear, you know firm in fear, but there's a nice balance as well with his humour, and it pains me to say that he is a funny guy because quite often I am the butt of those jokes. He's a really nice guy and I think the girls have the appreciation that he's here. So, the humour comes through but when required, he comes down pretty hard.
Given you've had substantial experience in women's cricket through various phases of the game's development, how do you think its health at a domestic level in New Zealand improved?
In New Zealand we had a big restructure last winter the way women's cricket is structured, and that was for the better. We need more resources, more money pumped into the game. And I don't just mean players needed security and get paid more, but the structure needed to be more rounded. Things like all our domestic T20 matches getting televised, there's a little bit more remuneration, for more domestic players. The biggest thing with the White Ferns is creating more exposure and depth, so wanting these 14-, 15-, 16-year old girls coming through to keep choosing cricket. Not netball, or hockey, rugby, or no sport whatsoever.
But, at the same time, keeping the mid-20s to 30-year-olds invested in that game because I think you're as good as your weakest link. And, with New Zealand women at the moment, depth is not their strongest point. They have some quality players; don't get me wrong, but the more quality players you got, the higher the standard of players is. I see that as a major goal as far as my thoughts go wherever New Zealand cricket would like to head. Pumping into your White Ferns is important and great, but if there's nothing underneath it, it can be quite volatile.
How about at the global level?
Just the more cricket that can be played the better, just like what it does for the men's game. How many outstanding athletes playing in the men's game, entertaining cricket, different skills being developed seems like every year...why wouldn't that happen in the women's game? You've got the leagues in England [the now-defunct KSL, and the upcoming 100-ball tournament], in Australia with the WBBL, the [women's] IPL looks like it's starting; they've had a couple of little tastes of it. Why not kick that off?
Do you think a full-fledged IPL-style league, improving on the Women's T20 Challenge, in the near future could change the face of women's cricket?
Seeing the development of the Indian women's team, the likes of [Shafali] Verma coming through at the moment. It's scary to think if that door is opened fully, [it would be] a tidal wave of talent that could come out of there, and you know what? It could be good for the global game as well. As soon as the women's IPL kicks off it will only absolutely help the women's game.
India beating Australia at the opening game of this World Cup marked the start of a few upsets and close contests between the other sides. Do you think it indicates the start of the narrowing of the gulf between a powerhouse like Australia and the other teams?
Yeah, I do. Don't get me wrong, the gulf is still there. We've performed averagely, especially the other day - Bangladesh did really well there, Pakistan beat [2016 T20 World Cup winners] West Indies, and even Sri Lanka in this tournament have been really good. I think the gap is getting closer but the gap is still there.
But if you think back to when the Sri Lanka men's team started, they weren't the powerhouse they're now. They won a couple of World Cups across formats. I lost two semi-finals to them in World Cups - in 2007 and 2011. It took them, what, 20 years to so take off? And they were away. So, why wouldn't it happen with their women's team if they make the right investments and things like that? If India have been able to uncover the kind of talent they have, populations are there in Bangladesh, Pakistan, as well I'm sure. So, once that acceptance happens that this game is happening with women and around women, I think you'll see the talent fly through as well.
She [Amelia Kerr] is an amazing talent and we've got to manage her well with everything she's doing overseas - WBBL, and even with the IPL thing. You let her do those things but you need to make sure she's fit and firing for New Zealand as well because that's No. 1 priority."
Talking about young talent coming through, New Zealand's 19-year-old bowling allrounder Amelia Kerr has developed into a highly rated legspinner, a world-record score against her name, plays in overseas leagues and nearly snatched the victory from India's hands the other day.
She debuted later [in 2016], so she wasn't in the side when I was with them in 2015-16, but I remember hearing about this Amelia Kerr and I knew her dad, Robbie [a former Wellington cricketer], and also played against him. So, I would hear about Amelia Kerr, you know, she's this little guru. But since her debut, she hasn't turned back. She is a skillful bowler, her batting at the moment is probably a level lower than her bowling, but she's got the skills to be a genuine, allrounder. I know she got a double-hundred against Ireland in a one-dayer, bit in terms of getting more consistent with those performances, especially the top sides in the world, it will come with age because batting seems to be more of an experience-gathering thing. But she is an amazing talent and we've got to manage her well with everything she's doing overseas - WBBL, and even with the IPL thing. You let her do those things but you need to make sure she's fit and firing for New Zealand as well because that's No. 1 priority.
Who are the players in the New Zealand national mix - rookie or experienced, whether at this World Cup or waiting in the wings - who are yet to realise their potential or is worth keeping an eye out on?
Rosemary Mair has a lot of potential. She's already very accurate, bowls a very hard-enough cricket ball and in that she's fast enough and gets through the crease nicely to get good bounce. Amelia's [older] sister, Jess. She brings a weapon to our team we haven't had with a big inswinger like that and some good stock obviously with her last name. Amelia herself is going to be there for years, hopefully. Leigh Kasperek [the offspinner]; she flies under the radar a bit, but is immensely important in our team - bowls in the hardest times in the powerplay, has a slower ball that's amazing and she's a very, very smart cricketer and a bit of a gun in the field - a pocket-rocket... she's got a great arm. With the bat, I think there's more to come with Maddy Green and then another one who hasn't been playing here but could do well in the future - Lauren Down from Auckland. Unfortunately for her, our senior players are all at the top of the order - with Suzie, Sophie, Rachel Priest and Amy is not even here. But when she gets the opportunity there will be good things to come from Lauren.
The final one - what's on your wishlist for the women's game - the New Zealand team and in general - for the next five years?
The women's game is heading upwards, so it has to just continue. The ICC events are great; they seem to be having one every year almost, and more domestic leagues will get more exposure to the masses, with more young girls involved and that's going to be great for New Zealand and the world at large.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo