Peter Williams: Oram's comments provide troubling 'test' case

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During the heyday of Kerry Packer's 50-over one day cricket in the 1980s, there were often gloomy predictions about the future of test matches. Packer was never that enthusiastic about the five-day version of the game.

He once called the Channel Nine commentary box during a one day international, ordering Bill Lawry and Keith Stackpole to stop talking about the recent test series and insisting that the most important games of the season were now under way.

However, test cricket has retained its primacy in the past 30 years because the game's best players kept involved in all versions of the game.

Shane Warne changed that. He started a trend which others, including Stephen Fleming, followed - opting out of test matches to play just one-day internationals and, latterly, Twenty20 fixtures.

Now Jacob Oram has gone public with his thoughts about where he'll most likely play in the future - and they don't include much, if any, test cricket.

He was provoked by numerous ex-players last season commenting on his injury induced unavailability for the series against India.

More than a few snide remarks suggested he was saving himself to be fit so he could collect his plentiful bounty from the IPL.

Oram angrily refuted that at the time, yet his comments this week won't have doused those flames, as he pondered aloud leaving test cricket for good and concentrating on Twenty20 tournaments.

"I could lie to you and say it's not about the money," he told Cricinfo. "I know that is something people do not necessarily want to hear."

Oram has always impressed me as a young man of maturity and integrity and nobody can doubt his honesty here. But this is one of the best players New Zealand has produced in the past 20 years and he's prepared to walk away from what my generation regard as the premium form of cricket.

That's after a 31-test career of essentially unfulfilled potential, in order to be fit and available to indulge in a series of meaningless slogfests for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Matches that last 40 overs are deemed more worthwhile than those lasting 400.

Oram won't be the last high-quality international cricketer aged around 30 and troubled by injury who'll flag test matches just as he should be approaching his prime.

That means the five-day game, already regarded as the poor relation of international cricket by sponsors and television companies, is going to become less attractive as it loses its marquee players before the natural end of their careers.

The Ashes will still do big business but it won't be the same elsewhere, not even in cricket's financial epicentre of India.

Yet what type of game has given us the most memorable cricket of the past five years? ODIs? Yawn. The IPL? Only if you love shapely cheerleaders and PR flacks masquerading as commentators. No, test cricket is still the ultimate.

The 2005 Ashes was possibly the best series of all time. What about this past summer in Australia with the South African heroics, or the West Indies' shock series win over England in March?

I wonder if the doom-and-gloom merchants of the 1980s were a generation too early with their predictions. Is test cricket in real trouble this time because of the IPL dollars and whatever else might emerge in the evolving industry of Twenty20?

I'd like to think that, 132 years after the first test, there are a few legs left in the old game yet. But its future is severely threatened if the best players pull stumps before they should.

- Herald on Sunday

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