November 6, 2007

The likeable librarian

Daniel Vettori will bring a wealth of experience and cricket sense to the New Zealand captaincy

Vettori stepped up at the right time © Getty Images

The first time I got an inkling that Daniel Vettori might be captain material was in 2003. The Black Caps were touring Sri Lanka and were in the middle of a warm-up game. I had batted all day for a century. When stumps were drawn and I walked off, I expected plenty of praise from my team-mates. I got it from some, but from Daniel all I got was a steely look and a lecture on how the way I had batted could cost us in the Test matches. It was thought that as Muttiah Muralitharan was the main threat to us, we could allow ourselves the luxury of playing particularly cautiously against him if we were positive against the others.

"You defended or left just about every half-volley that came your way!" Daniel yelled at me. It surprised me because one, that was nothing new, and two, Dan wasn't really the type to pipe up in such fashion. I had always thought of him as the sort that was just happy to bowl when the captain said bowl, and then go home at the end of the day pretty even-tempered, regardless of the outcome to team and person.

Not one to take criticism very well, in the second innings I decided to go completely over the top with my response to Daniel's outburst. Rather than just be stubborn and continue to let just about every over-pitched ball go, I decided to overreact and play with wild abandon. I made one of the best nineties of my life.

This time when I left the field, I got a different reaction. Not a "Well done, old boy" but another steely look, minus the lecture. It was a look that said, "Don't doubt me, I know what I'm talking about."

Without a doubt Daniel Vettori does know cricket. His bespectacled look is no cliché of an intelligent school-librarian type: he is an intelligent school-librarian type, though one with a likeable, mischievous side. He's a well-read scholar in life, and sitting in the corner of the Black Caps dressing room for ten years he has filed away a lot of information.

Perhaps his laidback nature and belief that actions and statistics speak louder than words have meant that for a long time he was never in the selectors' sights as a future captain. Players like Craig McMillan, Chris Cairns and Jacob Oram were the ones who got the post of second in command to Stephen Fleming, who everyone thought had the job for as long as he wanted, but then again, perhaps it's testament to Vetter's intelligence that he stepped up just at the right time - when the knives, if not already being sharpened for Fleming, were definitely being located in the cutlery drawer.

Vettori has played as a young man in a team that was rebuilding, he has played as a maturing man in a team that has set history for New Zealand cricket, he has bowled influentially in many victories. Now he sees himself in the most influential role in a side that must rebuild again

Bowlers are often not thought of as prime candidates for captaincy because it is in the field that a captain arguably has his say the most, and he needs to make the gut calls about who to bowl and how. For a bowler it can be difficult under pressure to see past his own performance and remain clear and impartial. When it comes to spin bowlers, these thoughts are even more widely accepted, but it is hoped that Vettori has the ability to manage not only himself but the unit.

I say "hoped" because he is yet to do so in a Test match, although he has already coped admirably in the more formulaic world of the ODI. Then again, there may not be a need to hope: maybe Vettori has been thinking like a captain all along for many years. He was often called upon by Fleming to perform a variety of roles, and he would oblige most accurately. This may just show that Vettori already knew what was required, had been thinking about it, and had prepared for it long before he got the nod.

Over the last four years Vettori has shown that he has real passion for the fortunes of New Zealand cricket. He has played as a young man in a team that was rebuilding, he has played as a maturing man in a team that has set history for New Zealand, and he has led the bowling in many victories. Now he sees himself in the most influential role in a side that must rebuild again. He would have watched closely as Fleming rebuilt the team, and also looked on as it began to slide. Now it's his turn to build a legacy for himself.

Often a New Zealand captain is hamstrung by the lack of match-winning potential around him. The team that Vettori inherits must play above itself, but if he can get a stubborn old-timer like me to play out of his skin, I have faith that he can get a young team of enthusiasts to do the same.