December 7, 2011

New Zealand cricket

Daniel Vettori, lower-order saviour

Cricinfo

From Keith King, South Korea

Daniel Vettori drives on his way to 96, Australia v New Zealand, 1st Test, Brisbane, 2nd day, December 2, 2011
Daniel Vettori has scored more Test runs than anyone else at No. 8  © Getty Images
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Another Test, and another disappointment for that long-suffering breed, the New Zealand cricket fan. New Zealand cricket has never been a powerhouse but currently, the team is ranked eighth out of 10 teams, with only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe below them. They had just beaten Zimbabwe in a Test, but only just.

Australia are far from the team they were five years ago, when the team list read like the roll-call of all-time greats. Now they are seen as vulnerable and the possibility of New Zealand beating Australia in a Test for the first time since 1993 had been written up in the New Zealand press, with even ex-players expressing that the game was New Zealand's to win. Such hyperbole ignored the fact that much like the All Blacks, there is never a bad Australian cricket team. Some just aren't as good as others.

It also ignored the fact that the New Zealand seam attack consisting of Chris Martin, Tim Southee and Doug Bracewell, while probably the best New Zealand has to offer, is still well short of being world class. Martin, the aging but seemingly tireless spearhead averaged over 70 in Tests against Australia; Southee, while highly promising, still averaged over 40 in Tests and Bracewell had only played in one, the one in Zimbabwe that the New Zealanders only just won. True, Daniel Vettori is a classy spin bowler but not the sort of bowler to run through Australia in Australia.

Much of the optimism stemmed from the fact that in Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder, New Zealand have an in-form top five that potentially could be world class, potentially the best that New Zealand has ever had. Of course, games aren’t played on potential or on paper and the now traditional collapse of the New Zealand top order losing 5-96 (repeated to worse effect in the second innings with 5-28) was followed by the traditional lower-order recovery.

It almost goes without saying that the recovery in this first innings was led by Daniel Vettori, former captain and selector of the team and its No. 1 allrounder. In short, Daniel Vettori is New Zealand cricket. But is he New Zealand’s best batsmen, a statement that is almost always made on ESPNcricinfo by commenters and fans whenever he comes out to bat, usually in a precarious position where his country needs some saving. Daniel Vettori with the weight of a country and batting order on his shoulders.

Vettori is an unlikely batting hero. Bespectacled and gangly, he has an unlikely presence at the crease. It's not a presence that would suggest permanence that must frustrate the opposition. But he has admirable qualities of concentration, of being able to rise to the occasion when it is needed (and it's needed frequently). He bats within his means, using a home-baked technique that plays to his strengths. He plays late with little footwork, finding gaps in the field by placing the ball in unusual areas. He is especially strong square on the off-side and is effective at taking balls off his hip for well-placed runs on the on-side.

Obviously, if you just take his average which hovers just above 30, he is some way from being the country’s best batsman. However, he is a candidate for the world’s most improved batsman. If you only look at his average from 2003, the year where he made his first Test century until now, he averages 40 runs per innings with six centuries (before 2003, his average was 16.25 with no centuries).

The batting numbers of New Zealand players in the time period between 2003 and 2011 reveals a few interesting facts. Vettori is the highest run-getter in the period, and has the fifth best average during this time (15 Tests minimum), outperforming the likes of Brendon McCullum.

Of course, it goes without saying that he has been our most valuable all-round player. He has played the role of both main attacking and main defensive bowler, often bowling himself into the ground. Martin is the only other player to have captured over 100 wickets in this period. Shane Bond was perhaps the only New Zealand bowler who was more important to the team than Vettori, but unfortunately Bond only managed to play 10 Tests in this period due to chronic injury concerns.

Several players including McCullum, a player of rare talent but questionable shot selection, have a lower batting average than Vettori. This would suggest that McCullum, for one has definitely underperformed as a Test player. So why doesn’t Vettori bat higher in the order, given that he is one of New Zealand’s best batsmen?

He does seemingly have an unflappable character, capable of performing in situations under high pressure. Despite his ability and his results, there has been a reluctance to push him higher up the order, a reluctance shared by selectors, fans and presumably by Vettori himself. After all, over the last eight years (64 Tests), Vettori has averaged more than what Hussain, Atherton, Hooper, Atapattu, Wright, Kapil Dev, Ranatunga and Botham did over their whole careers.

There still remains the feeling that he doesn’t belong in the top six of an international team. When he has batted in the top six, his average is about 30 (this figure will be skewed from times when he batted as a night watchman in the earlier part of his career). In contrast, he averages about 40 at No. 8 (he is in fact the most successful No. 8 batsman in the history of Test cricket). For the time being, Vettori will continue to serve as New Zealand’s lower order savior, trying to remedy the flaws inherent in the talented but inconsistent New Zealand top-order.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by D.Nuts on (December 9, 2011, 8:53 GMT)

Well said, KK. Dan is a gem and a treasure. I completely agree on the potential of the Kiwi top 5, but I would make that top 6, as one Mr. Brownlie has done what few kiwis have done lately, genuinely impressed most of Australia's cricketing public. The question might be how long he stays at 6 for.

Posted by Cam on (December 8, 2011, 16:50 GMT)

Excellent blog on about the most underrated cricketer of recent times. Just think what he could have achieved with a bit of support every now & then.

He's also - from evidense I've seen - a top bloke to boot.

Posted by karkel on (December 8, 2011, 10:45 GMT)

Dan Vettori is the 'Richie McCaw' of NZ cricket. Also here are the batting stats for the batting order since the beginning 2010 [excluding Williamson and Brownlie because this would be their whole career so far, and Ryder's numbers are from the beginning of 2009 as he missed a few matches due to injury]. McCullum: 975 runs @ 54.17, Guptill: 749 runs @ 44.06, Taylor: 743 runs @ 39.11, Ryder: 809 runs @ 40.45, Vettori: 572 runs @ 30.10. NZ cricket followers know how good Williamson is/will be and Brownlie looks a good prospect so there are the makings of a great batting line-up. Also the bowling is only gonna improve as Neil Wagner qualifies next year and will be straight into the team, Trent Boult is gonna be awesome [when he finally gets a crack] and a young guy from Canterbury that no one has really noticed yet by the name of Matt Henry; a first-class avg of 16, only 19 years old and is pretty much un-playable at times. I believe this will be our bowling trio this time next year.

Posted by mackka on (December 8, 2011, 7:06 GMT)

Richardson (2776 runs @ 45), Fleming (7172 runs @ 40), Astle (4702 runs @ 37), McMillan (3116 runs @ 38), Styris (1586 runs @ 36)

vs

Guptill (1078 runs @ 35), McCullum (3449 runs @ 36), Taylor (2387 runs @ 41), Ryder (1253 runs @ 43), Williamson (435 runs @ 33)

The top 5 is definitely a strong one with lots of potential, that should be persisted with for quite some time. With Vettori's batting improving dramatically, NZ can afford to have him at 7 with a good keeper at 8. However, what NZ lack is the allrounder that Cairns was at 6. Brownlie looks a good bat, and Daniel Flynn was a tough nut a year or so ago, but does NZ need a genuine allrounder again?

Posted by Ashwini Kumar on (December 8, 2011, 6:59 GMT)

Well, NZ bowling never looked like taking 20 wickets in a test against any quality opposition, unless they play in a very favorable seaming conditions in their own backyard. As for Vettori, he is the best all rounder of 2000s. Undoubtedly the best left-arm spinner of his generation, he is more reliable as a batsman than more flamboyant teammates like Brendon, Ross & Jessy. For NZ to consistently win ODIs it is important for these three to perform more regularly. In bowling arena, the only person who could help NZ win matches was Shane Bond. Bond could not stay fit enough. After retirement of Stephen Fleming (what a pleasant batting style he was gifted with!) and Nathan Astle, Daniel Vettori has ended up shouldering that extra burden of batting also.

Posted by Valerio DiBattista on (December 8, 2011, 1:05 GMT)

Excellent article Keith, well done.

NZ really are a poor Test team aren't they. Their batting in the 1st Test was appalling, no commitment or concentration from the top order. I am not sure any of them are up to Test standard on that performance. And the bowling is very poor too, which in turn puts pressure on the batting.

Bracewell's no-ball when Clarke inside edged onto his stumps was heart breaking, but how often do you see this happen with the poorer sides. Unbelievable.

I thought Vettori batted beautifully in the 1st innings until he did himself in. His bowling to me is not what it was though. But he does not get a lot of support does he?

Posted by Rahulbose on (December 7, 2011, 20:20 GMT)

Without Vettori NZL would be worse than Bangladesh.

Posted by shaun on (December 7, 2011, 16:18 GMT)

Most successful No 8 really what did he succeed at might have kept the wolves at the door for a bit , can't remember many NZ victories where I thought thank god for Vettoris batting is he really that good ?

Posted by Ananth Jobin on (December 7, 2011, 14:58 GMT)

What New Zealand lagging is a player like Dravid who beautifully allow others to perform saying like, I'm here.. you go for runs. even if you got out I'm here. i will take care.. and they need to put pressure to opponent while bowling. and McCullum shOd learn from shewag or gayle.. he should go for runs to outside off stump. but not all the balls in outside off stump. and he should leave the best bowlers of opponents like shewag did to steyn...and target others. every New Zealand player should remind that, throwing cheaply there wicket not only push them down, that will boost the opponents.

Posted by SARWAR on (December 7, 2011, 11:13 GMT)

undoubtedly he has been the best for nz in the last few years.i hope in coming days he breaks into the top ten list of icc test rankings.that would be an amazing history for a no 8 batsman.with a few class players in their ranks,he has carried the expectations of the whole nation,may be even more than what sachin carries with him.probably those expectations are a sort of impetus provider to him,which gives the energy and endurance to keep performing highly and consistently at his level.

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