Vettori's value fully received
Like the team that he has fashioned in his image, there is nothing flash about Daniel Vettori. Neither is there any posturing. After leading his injury-ravaged team to the Champions Trophy final, Vettori said the value of captaincy was over-rated. "It's about leading by the performance," he said. "My team will follow if I perform."
How well he performed, and how well his team followed. New Zealand's performance wasn't as grand as Australia's yesterday, and Vettori's own didn't have the epic feel that Ricky Ponting's hundred carried, but the sum of his contribution was far more valuable to his team.
Vettori doesn't stir the senses, but there is air about him. It's of self-assurance and poise. From his fingers, the ball doesn't hiss, spit and turn extravagantly. He doesn't bedazzle or spook his victims. But he is a crafty and subtle bowler, who has been among the most outstanding ODI spinners of his age. Only Muttiah Muralitharan among the current spinners has a better economy rate than him, and in an age of batting orgies, it can be counted by the fingertips how many times he has been taken for more than six runs an over.
And in his relaxed, unfussy style, he was hard to get away again. As always, there were no magic balls, but an honest length and subtle variations in line and trajectory. Vettori was lucky with Umar Akmal's wicket for the umpire failed to see the deflection off the bat. But he got his opposite number with a lovely one: the drift got Younis Khan trying to reach out to dab it on the leg-side, and the turn caught the leading edge. It looked like a soft dismissal, but the mistake had been induced.
Vettori's fast bowlers had started well, denying the batsmen width and keeping them pinned to the crease with bounce. Vettori made sure that the leash was never loosened. Pakistan had been in a similar situation against India earlier in the tournament, but had had found easy runs in the middle over. Only twice did Pakistan manage to touch a run-rate of five, in the first and the 12th overs, and never did they go beyond it. Almost unobtrusively, Vettori managed to get seven overs out of James Franklin as he held the strings at the other end.
With the bat, his contribution was even more precious. Pakistan are the masters of breaking open the wall when they find a little opening, and Ross Taylor had provided them a huge one with a ridiculously ill-chosen cut to a full and hurrying ball from Shahid Afridi whom he had just clubbed for six. It felt that this was the moment Pakistan would siege.
Vettori denied them cussedly. He had chosen to come out ahead of Neil Broom, a specialist batsman, and it was apparent why. He was the man with the nerve. Runs came in little dabs and cuts, but never did they dry up while Vettori was batting. Grant Elliott, playing with a broken and numb thumb, was struggling to put them away but there was never any panic. The asking rate crossed seven, but the batting Powerplay remained.
When it was taken, Vettori was the one to lead the charge. Saeed Ajmal was swung past mid-on for four, Mohammed Aamer was driven down the ground for another and Naved-ul-Hasan was swung over midwicket. Then, out of nowhere, Elliott found an explosive release and a 16-run over from Umar Gul sealed the match. "It wasn't a very memorable 40," Vettori said about Elliott's innings, "but it was an outstanding 75."
Perhaps the scorecard will tell us the story. That no New Zealand bowler went for over five-and-half an over and none of their batsmen were dismissed in single figures points to the fact the team never the let the match slip away from their grasp. Pakistan under-performed, and as Younis Khan, candid in defeat, admitted, that dropped catch when Elliott was on 42 might haunt him forever. But nothing should not detract from the fact that New Zealand did what they needed to. It was an utterly professional performance that has taken them, the perennial semi-finalists, to one match from their second Champions Trophy win.
It was New Zealand's third successive win, and Vettori spoke about the importance of entering the semi-final on a high. It was also the third time New Zealand had entered the match as the unfancied team and won comfortably. The final will be no different: Australia will be the favourites to win, but New Zealand will not beat themselves.
"I hope we have one more good match is us," Vettori said. That will be an apt finish to a tournament of delightful surprises.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo