Turning it on
Such is the purple patch that Daniel Vettori is enjoying this summer, it's hard to believe that he went three years without a five-wicket bag. Last season Vettori was unable to capitalise when tailor-made opportunities such as the infamous Hamilton crater against South Africa or the wearing day-five Lord's wicket presented themselves.
In conditions perfectly suited to swing bowling, today it was again Vettori who troubled Australia the most from the moment his left-arm spin was introduced in the 15th over. Nathan Astle's wicket-to-wicket medium pacers seemed the logical choice after a wayward start, from James Franklin in particular, but, as he has done all season, Vettori produced the magic.
Justin Langer's wicket followed a spell of seven overs packed with pressure and he conceded only 11. Matthew Hayden, who went to lunch with 23, was all at sea against Vettori. Pushing, prodding and thrusting the pad, Hayden's defensive survival was a far cry from his impregnable aura earlier in the millennium.
Vettori bowled unchanged for 23 overs at a cost of 52 runs while also picking up the prized scalp of Ricky Ponting for 9, made off 30 balls. Looking to increase the tempo, Ponting was beautifully deceived by Vettori as he swung across the line and was struck in front before his lunch had settled. At 100 for 2, Vettori had ensured New Zealand did not botch ideal conditions for bowling.
After back-to-back five-wicket bags in Hobart and Perth in 2001, it was not until the second innings at Dhaka in October last year that Vettori repeated the feat. In his next four Tests against Bangladesh and Australia (3), he claimed five-fors in three matches and a four-wicket return in the other.
During the drought after Perth, the consistent message from the New Zealand camp was that Vettori was bowling without luck rather than bowling badly. When the wickets almost dried up last season criticism of Vettori's form intensified. Twelve months on, Vettori's mere presence at the bowling crease brings caution from the cricket's best batting line-up.
Today Vettori claimed his 50th wicket against Australia in his 12th match and now has 51 at an average of 30.27, placing him just shy of John Bracewell's average of 26.42 for his 38 wickets with his offspinners in 11 trans-Tasman Tests. Significantly, Vettori has operated without the support of the sort of attack Bracewell did, most notably a certain Sir Richard Hadlee.
Cricket scripts ordinarily have pace bowlers breaking through early and spinners coming into their own with the older ball. Today Vettori laid the foundation from which Franklin and Astle constructed a frame of optimism. It may have been effective rather than pretty, but it was still a start to the day New Zealand will reflect on with a degree of satisfaction.
Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show.