New Zealand cricket August 5, 2012

Is Vettori New Zealand's best Test bowler?

Keith King
Without the need to try and attack Vettori, the subtleties that are so effective in the one-day game prove less effective in Tests. Does his all-round contributions mask his lack of impact at the bowling crease?

There seem to be certain truisms that are always in articles about New Zealand cricket; the consistent inconsistency, the overachieving in World Cups (four semi-finals reached in the last six one-day World Cups, a record matched by only Australia and Sri Lanka). And then, there seems to be the clichés; the Black Caps a team of battlers, a team of overachievers (given the talent and potential of some New Zealand players, I would say that many of them underachieve) and that Daniel Vettori is the best bowler in the team.

Undoubtedly, Vettori is one of New Zealand's key players, a rare world-class player in a team that lacks real class. He was/is one of the few that could have made an Australian team (until Australia's decline, a way I had of deciding if a New Zealand player was world-class was thinking if they could make a combined New Zealand-Australian team).

The pity is that Australia's decline has coincided with a time where New Zealand's fortunes have taken a further dip, reached new lows. But while extremely valuable, is Vettori really our best Test bowler? He has carried that label for most of his career, with only Bond, Cairns and maybe Martin at times, challengers for the title. Vettori acts as both attacking weapon and stock bowler, often having to perform both roles simultaneously given that the New Zealand attack has often been mediocre.

As a bowler in the short forms of the game, his credentials are unquestionable. His change in pace, length and drift as well as a well-disguised arm ball make him a parsimonious and dangerous bowler in the shorter formats of the game.

In Tests, it's a different story. Without the need to try and attack him, the subtleties that are so effective in the one-day game prove less effective in Tests. Some days, like during the first Test against West Indies when he picked up one wicket in 51 overs, Vettori seems to bowl all day without getting a wicket. Unfortunately, these days, it seems that every day is one of those days.

To illustrate the point, he's captured five wickets in his last five Tests, averaging over 80 per wicket. Are these the stats of New Zealand's premier bowler? So is the old line about Vettori being New Zealand's best bowler still justified? Does his all-round contributions mask his lack of impact at the bowling crease?

Of course, it goes without saying that Vettori has been our best spin bowler since his debut. Only two other spinners, Paul Wiseman and Jeetan Patel, have taken 40 wickets or more since 1997, the year Vettori debuted. However, they both averaged more than 45 runs per wicket with strike-rates and economy-rates significantly higher than Vettori's. But when you look at the 11 bowlers who have taken more than 50 wickets for New Zealand since Vettori's debut and when you see that only Wiseman has a worse average and only Oram and Wiseman have a higher strike rate than Vettori, does it reflect the fact that Vettori has been New Zealand's best bowler? Certainly, he has the most wickets of any bowler in this period (359, significantly more than Chris Martin who has 229) and has the second-best economy-rate of the 11, only slightly more expensive than Oram.

But, the primary job of a Test bowler is to take wickets and for a spinner, to take wickets in the third and fourth innings. Vettori falls down in this category, averaging almost 37 (in comparison, Warne averaged 22.8 and Murali averaged 21).

Looking at the stats, you have to wonder why Vettori is so highly regarded? There are several arguments that can be made to rehabilitate Vettori's aura. He plays for a weak team that seldom score enough runs to pressure the opposition, he has usually lacked support from either fast or spin bowlers, (he didn't have slow-bowling support like Kumble had with Harbhajan and discounting the few games he played with Shane Bond, a quality fast bowler like Warne had with McGrath or Gillespie). It can be argued that the flat, batsmen friendly pitches and smaller boundaries of today's arenas don't help spinners of Vettori's ilk.

It can even be argued that his style of bowling is not well suited to New Zealand pitches (where he has played about half his Tests). It is perhaps this point that is most important as his record is much better away than it is at home (highlighting this point is that he has taken 14 of his 20 five-wicket bags away from home). Away from home, his average drops to 32.9; in comparison Chris Martin's rises to 38.7, compared to about 31 at home.

Maybe, it would be better to describe Vettori as New Zealand's best bowler outside of New Zealand. Regardless of these stats, Vettori as a spinner seems to be irreplaceable in the New Zealand Test team. Injured and invalidated out of the ongoing Test in Jamaica, on a pitch that could be expected to take spin, the team management opted not to replace him with Tarun Nethula, their second spinner in the tour party but went with a four-prong pace attack with Williamson and Guptill offering part-time spin.

Incidentally, this is the same approach the New Zealanders took in Hobart when Vettori pulled out on the morning of the match but then they had little choice. This time, they didn't have enough faith in Tarun Nethula to do a job. It must be discouraging for Nethula, although England did the same by leaving Graeme Swann, a world-class spinner, out of their side in Headingley.

Going with four seamers is an attacking option that looks good if sides get rolled cheaply (obviously) but can look one-dimensional and lacking in ideas if a couple of batsmen get set. While Vettori may not be New Zealand's best bowler, he seems to be the most indispensable, the bowler that can be relied on to pull back quick starts made by opposing batsmen, the bowler who can keep New Zealand in the game for that little bit longer. It's just that the days when Vettori wins a match by bowling a team out seem to be getting further and further apart.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on December 27, 2012, 13:18 GMT

    The problem is simply lack of support at the other end. Teams know they don't have to attack him because runs will be consistently fed to them from the other end. Warne had McGrath, Gillespie, and Brett Lee, Murali had Vaas, Pollcok-Donald-Kallis, Steyn-Morkel-Philander-Kallis, Anderson-Finn-Swann, Anderson-Hoggard-Flintoff, Zaheer-Kumble-Singh, Siddle-Hilfenhaus. Look at the test rankings, 7 of the top 10 bowlers from only 3 countries. When one performs well it is reflected in the average of the others because batsmen have to try to score runs somehow. Vettori has had this sort of support for one very brief part of his career: Look at the stats for the tests Vettori played with Shane Bond, NZ's only other world class bowler in the last 10 years and his average drops to the mid twenties. Nothing improves a bowlers average more than the presence of another world class bowler at the other end.

  • fanedlive on October 21, 2012, 20:40 GMT

    Vettori wants to keep playing tests because he is driven by stats and wants to pass Hadlee. However his bowling suits the shorter formats much more

  • fanedlive on September 1, 2012, 14:41 GMT

    Two people are responsible for Vettori not taking wickets to win test matchesStev Rixon and StephenFleming Rixon changed him to bowling over the wicket and Fleming bowled him for far to long a spells40/50 overs in an innings and with such a work load he ended up with stress fractures in his back.To continue on playing he had to change his action to eliminate futher back problems.This change in his action meant he lost what he had at the start of his career his ability to spin the ball.He has therefore continued on with great subtle variations in flight and pace With out the injuries and better use he could easily have over 600 test wickets.He played in a test at EdenPark against Australia Paul Wiseman the off spinner was in the team ,they bowled over 100 overs on a turning wicket yet Fleming never bowled them in tandem Lock and Laker spent their time often bowling together when the wicket was turning Dan vettori never got that chance and was used as a stock bowlerfar to often ????

  • fanedlive on August 17, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    I think the Arc-lilies heel of NZ cricket is that no-one cares anymore about overpaid under-entertaining cricketers.. More cricket less ego.. as for Lucus 'He still da man'

  • fanedlive on August 13, 2012, 21:42 GMT

    relatively young NZ team. every batsman, bowler goes through form slump in their career Tendulkar, Ponting, Warne, McGrath. All in all if he retired today he would still hold his head high knowing he made a massive impression on NZ cricket and achieved a hell of a lot in his career.

  • fanedlive on August 13, 2012, 21:38 GMT

    I also think people shouldnt try to transform our part-time spinners eg Guptill and Williamson into allrounders they are batsman and should stay that way whether they generate more turn or not, Williamson has enough on his plate he is only 21/22 and finding his way still in international cricket so therefore has enough to focus on this early in his career. People only throw Guptill into the equation because he bowls the odd flukey delivery and chips out tired batsman who have been batting for a good part of the innings or tail enders. no disrespect. Forget the stats. look what he has done for NZ cricket, Captain selector and part time coach when the regular coach loses the plot. he is a true genius and and asset to the game. Whether he would make an Australian team or not it doesnt mateer its not going to happen. Hes a kiwi and plays an integral part in the teams he represents. As any cricketer would say form slumps happen and he is far too experienced to be left out of the......

  • fanedlive on August 13, 2012, 21:23 GMT

    Vettori has never been a big turner of the ball especially since his back injury in 03/04?. after he recovered from that he had to adopt a new style of bowling and moved away from trying to turn the ball to the styles of subtle variation (flight pitch etc) keeping the batsman guessing. Which you have to take your hat off to him because its not easy. it is unfair to pitch vettori against great fast bowlers eg. Bond Hadlee Cairns. you cant compare apples with bananas. Vettori has filled the spinner role in the New Zealand team since '97 and has been of great service to the New Zealand side. The other two genuine spinners they have flirted with Wiseman and Patel as someone further up mentioned. they were tried and tested and usually to know avail with averages over 50. Why cop Vettori with flack when you should be celebrating his achievements. Not many allrounders can say theyve made the 3000 run/300 wickets honour and all going well could join the elite group of 4000/400.......

  • fanedlive on August 13, 2012, 21:03 GMT

    Vetori is gd but nt like murli, kuble, warner

  • fanedlive on August 13, 2012, 17:51 GMT

    shane bond was the best test bowler for newzealand in my views, but now vettori is the best. Next to vettori is Tim Southee.

  • fanedlive on August 13, 2012, 14:27 GMT

    Vettori has lost his ability to spin the ball just like Harbhajan. It's sad to see a top spinner deteriorate. The advent of T20 cricket and a real dearth of good bowlers in New Zealand has also affected his game. Teams are ready to play him out for his 4/10 overs or even milk him for 3-4 runs in tests as the nobody keeps it tight in the other end. But Vettori is also to be blamed as he's not using his guile anymore. In the IPL he had to make way for Murali as batsmen could just play him for 24 -30 runs and not give away their wickets. Batsmen have become smarter in handling bowlers like Vettori who rely on subtle changes to do the trick. More often than not Vettori has had to try and contain the batsmen for New Zealand and thus has become more ineffective than he usually is. However he's a handy batsman and I think it's time to start looking at him as a bits and pieces player(although it is indeed very very sad).

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