Daniel Vettori: 100 Tests March 25, 2010

The Atlas of the antipodes

David Leggat
As he stands on the brink of 100 Tests, we look at where New Zealand's jack of all trades ranks in his country's pantheon

There's an advertisement running on New Zealand sports channels at the moment featuring Dan Vettori.

He is watching television when several of his New Zealand team-mates turn up, wanting to switch channels. Argument ensues. To cut to the chase, it finishes with Vettori putting his head in his hands and slowly shaking it.

It might not have been the intention, but when you consider his importance to the New Zealand cause, and the half-baked efforts of others in the team at various points this summer, it is amusingly appropriate.

In this week's second Test against Australia, starting in Hamilton on Saturday, Vettori brings up his 99th or 100th Test, depending on how you view the ill-starred World XI game against Australia in 2005. Include it, and Vettori's bringing up his ton this week; treat the relevant mark as nation against nation, it will happen in Bangladesh in a few months' time. Either way it's a remarkable achievement for the bespectacled allrounder, who joins the man he replaced as captain, Stephen Fleming, as New Zealand's only 100-Test cricketer.

There are statistics that bear testimony to his influence within the New Zealand game. Consider just one: Vettori's Test batting average is 30.9; in the period he has taken over the captaincy, 26 Tests beginning in November 2007, that number is 44.07. His bowling average is also fractionally superior in that shorter period. Therefore it is a short hop to contend that the 31-year-old seems to be thriving, in personal terms, with the leadership.

Recently a sports commentator posed the question: Is Vettori New Zealand's finest cricketer?

These sort of subjective topics are great for whiling away idle hours, but if there are firm and conflicting viewpoints, you usually don't get far. In this instance, the answer is no. Here's a handful of names to ponder, in rough chronological order: Bert Sutcliffe, John R Reid, Glenn Turner, Sir Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe. You'll find any number of supporters to argue each of those players has credentials superior to Vettori's.

How does he sit among the finest spinners New Zealand has produced? Now we're talking.

The answer is, head and shoulders clear of the rest.

New Zealand does not have an especially rich tradition of spin bowlers. Only one other has got to 100 Test wickets, offspinner John Bracewell, who was an immensely competitive, combative player. In his prime, a team of Bracewells wouldn't lose many matches, but there would be plenty of trips to the match referee's room.

There have been three other left-arm orthodox slow men of note: Tom Burtt, burly and gifted, but a liability in the field, in the years after the Second World War; Hedley Howarth, who churned through a mountain of overs in exhausting conditions in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the subcontinent and in the West Indies; and Stephen Boock, a thoroughly competitive and humorous man, who once kissed the Eden Park pitch en route to one for a bucketload against Javed Miandad and his chums 21 years ago.

Vettori is not among the biggest turners of a ball. His strengths include flight and variations, accumulated wisdom gleaned from 13 years in the big time. He is a treat to watch at work. One of his strongest attributes is best seen in side-on replays of an over. He uses changes of pace, with no noticeable change in action, and to excellent effect. As they stretch out, or advance down the pitch, batsmen find they are not quite there.

At times Vettori has had to be more defensive than he might wish - a case of necessity rather than preference. Rarely has he marked out his run with 450 or more runs to work with.

One of Vettori's strongest attributes is best seen in side-on replays of an over. He uses changes of pace, with no noticeable change in action, and to excellent effect. As they stretch out, or advance down the pitch, batsmen find they are not quite there

So try this question for size: How important a figure has Vettori become to New Zealand cricket?

Tom Lowry and Walter Hadlee were the early giants of the game. Reid was captain on the occasion of New Zealand's first Test win, against West Indies at Eden Park in 1956; he added Test wins No. 2 and 3 in South Africa six summers later to his resume, and was a colossus of the game. Among his claims to a place at the game's top table in New Zealand was his longevity as a national selector. He wanted a say in who he was leading through the gate and got it.

Now Vettori is in the same situation: captain and selector. It is not a double role for which he has received universal support. His fellow selectors are coach Mark Greatbatch and former captain and batting champion Glenn Turner. One advocate in his corner is Reid, who knows why Vettori wanted the extra responsibility, and supports his right to a strong say in who walks onto the field behind him.

It is an old argument: should there be a clear line between the occupiers of the dressing room and those who put them there? How do players view their captain when they know he is one of those who hold the key to their immediate place in the side? Vettori has maintained he will make hard calls when required.

At this moment he is his team's best bowler, possesses among their safest pair of hands in the field, and is perhaps their most reliable source of runs. Throw in the captaincy and selectorial roles and he has a full plate. Remember, he was also doubling up as de facto coach during the gap between the departure of Andy Moles and the appointment of Greatbatch, although he didn't much care for the terminology and didn't feel he was doing anything differently in his handling of the team.

Vettori's significance to his country's game can be traced back to his debut, against England in 1997. There was no gentle introduction, no bedding-in period for New Zealand's youngest Test player, at 18 years 10 days. He bowled more overs than anyone else in England's only innings, at the Basin Reserve, during a hefty innings loss (and he batted No. 11, below Simon Doull and Geoff Allott, which on reflection is a hoot).

A few days later he was asked to square the series in the final Test in Christchurch. Chasing 305, England won by four wickets. Of the 146.4 overs it took, Vettori wheeled through 57, more than double anyone else. It was a ludicrous load on slender shoulders.

So, being an integral part of New Zealand cricket is nothing new for Vettori.

New Zealand's finest cricketer? A matter of opinion, so no. Their most influential? Right up there.

David Leggat is chief cricket writer and chief sports reporter of the New Zealand Herald

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mahmood on March 28, 2010, 5:04 GMT

    Sir Richard Hadlee is well ahead of Daniel Vettori. Hadlee's achievements during 80's and 90's against many all time best teams will possibly remain unparrallel in New Zealand's cricketing history. Vettori is the best player in the current NZ team but it is also true this New Zealand side is one of the weakest they have ever had.The overall standard of the oponent sides has also fallen down quite significantly.

  • Dummy4 on March 27, 2010, 21:54 GMT

    Hey aglubb002 - Yesterday actually

  • Dummy4 on March 27, 2010, 7:11 GMT

    Vettori may or may not be the best cricketer, New Zealand ever had. These types of questions will never be answered to the satisfaction of all. These things are subjective. But look how he leads the side by example. What a beauty it is to see him coming with the small run up to bowl. The easy action and the never say die attitude. he is not at all bothered with the result either with the bat or the ball. if ever the Kiwis become the world champion in any form of cricket, it would be entirely due to the efforts of this one man army.

  • Jonathan on March 26, 2010, 22:25 GMT

    Vettori may not be the all time NZ greatest cricketer but as an ambassador of the game, one can't go passed him. One only has to go back a year to the world ODI in Africa when NZ played England and Collingwood walked out of his crease to congratulate his partner and was stumped. Vettori immediately recalled the batsman who went ont o score a useful 70 odd but not enough to win the game. All this was in the light of a similar incident during a game betwwen NZ and England at the Oval in which a NZ player was similarly caught out his ground when Collingwood the England captain allowed the successful appeal to stand. An eye for an eye? No way- Dan earned the enduring respect of the cricketing world and his greatness is the spirit and intelligence in which he plays the game

  • Tony on March 26, 2010, 21:48 GMT

    Anyone who says Vettori is New Zealand's finest cricketer is either below the age of 30, or has short-term memory loss. Anyone who saw the great Richard Hadlee bowl for any period of time KNOWS he is the greatest in kiwi history.

    Let's not get carried away. Vettori stands out because he has been surrounded by some very average cricketers for a very long time. He always gives his best, and is excellent in a scrap (not something we can always say about his team-mates).

    A very valuable cricketer to his nation. A very good cricketer no doubt. But should not even be suggested as his nation's finest, as he (and everyone else for that matter) is so far behind Hadlee it's not funny.

  • mat on March 26, 2010, 21:26 GMT

    According to the 2 Tests mentioned against England Vettori scored 59 runs for once out (over 4 innings). Not bad for a young fella, hey?

  • chris on March 26, 2010, 20:29 GMT

    There is NO way in the world Vettori is NZ's best cricketer of all time. Granted he is up there as a quality no8, and left arm spin bowler, but lets face it, has he CONSTANTLY won games for us like Hadlee? If you are talking a true 'match winner' look back at how many times Hadlee pulled us out of a loosing situation to a winning one. That's where champions are born....

  • Andrew on March 26, 2010, 20:20 GMT

    harryspooner, I am a Kiwi. You could say Astle & Fleming also carried a lot on their shoulders. At test level, Hauritz picks up wickets, they are probably similar but my point is that there are better ones ie Swann is clearly superior, he does what you need a spinner to do. For all you Vettori fans. when was the last time Vettori took a bag of wickets against a decent test playing nation. Ponting is a very underrated captain, he knows how to harness his talent. NZ doesn't lack talent, more so experience. Vettori is more effective as a test batsmen than bowler these days, his bowling hasn't kicked on - its a tragedy.

  • Cameron on March 26, 2010, 20:19 GMT

    @ Aglubb002 - "NZ now plays about 3/10's of its games against WI, Bangers and Zimb."

    Hardly a telling stat. There are 10 test playing nations, of which NZ is one. Assuming that equal numbers of games are played against the remaining nine nations, in fact you'd reasonably expect NZ to play 3/9 of its games against "WI, Bangers and Zimb."

  • Tim on March 26, 2010, 19:58 GMT

    Is Dan the best? Ask just one simple question - exactly where would NZC be now without him? He bats, he bowls, he fields, he captains, he coaches, he selects, he encourages, he cajoles, he takes the blame, he carries the team every inch of the way (he probably prepares the team sandwiches & cleans the pavilion windows in his spare time) & he does it all uncomplainingly & quite brilliantly, tasks that would fell a lesser man. Although only 31, he seems to have been around since the dawn of time & it has been one of my greatest pleasures to watch this fantastic man grow from a scrawny gawky youth to a mature adult, bearded like the pard, at the very top of his chosen profession. He is the lionheart, the lifeblood & the inspiration of his team & he is pure gold. His contribution is unparalled & NZ really is the closest I have seen to a one-man team. But what a man - a true gentleman & spotlight-shunning superstar & my cricketing hero. Is Dan the best? You betcha!!

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