India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Mohali, 3rd day October 18, 2003

Vettori shines on a batting paradise

Daniel Vettori, the left-arm spinner, looks as happy as a pig in muck



Daniel Vettori: enjoying the challenge
(c) AFP


Daniel Vettori, the left-arm spinner, looks as happy as a pig in muck. Runs to bowl to, conditions tailormade for his type of bowling and every prospect of a lot more overs to bowl yet. It's a far cry from the wilderness his bowling was in over the past two New Zealand summers.

Pitches were totally unhelpful for spin, firstly because of the portable pitches that were used in two of three Tests in successive series in New Zealand two years ago, then because of the weather-affected pitches which made the eyes of medium-fast bowlers, anywhere within a 50-mile radius of the grounds, light up.

For a spinner, though, it was hell. Vettori had his batting ability down the order, and his reputation, to thank for even being included in sides. In some ways it probably helped reduce the chance of his previously troublesome back playing up, and eased him back into cricket after the dark summers of 1999-2000 and 2000-01 when he had his stress fracture problems.

But things started to come right last year, and some good long bowling stints in Sri Lanka, after all the one-day madness surrounding the Cricket World Cup, helped Vettori restore himself to the heights he enjoyed when taking 12 for 149 against Australia at Eden Park in 1999-2000. There were signs during the Sri Lankan tour that Vettori was regaining the flight and control that have been his greatest assets. And there can be no finer tribute to a spin bowler than to be treated with respect by the masters of playing spin bowling, the Indians.

Not that he has looked like ripping through them - no more than Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh have looked like rattling through the New Zealand batting order. But his flight, accuracy and guile demand respect and his 24 overs today for 26 runs saidit all.

Circumstance provided Vettori's Northern Districts team-mate, Ian Butler, with an opportunity to replace Jacob Oram for the match, and he showed just how much his development has continued. Butler bowls with pace, not quite in the Shane Bond manner, but building towards it. The prospect of Bond and Butler bowling together is one that has intrigued New Zealand fans but it hasn't happened yet. Pakistan, on their tour of New Zealand in December may be the first to experience the twin speed attack.

It is not something New Zealand has a lot of experience of. There have been fast men at one end and journeymen at the other. But the two Bs have a special potential.

For the moment, however, there is the job of trying to get something out of this Test in Mohali. The second new ball, likely to be taken after about an hour of play on the fourth morning, may well determine what hopes New Zealand have of any success. The signs don't look great. The pitch is flat, the Indian batsmen have the bit between their teeth, and the prospect is of many more runs, and not a lot of wickets, in the rest of this Test.

No reflection on this day of cricket could neglect to mention Craig McMillan's sixth Test century. It was evidence, if any was needed after his efforts in the first Test, that he has regained all his powers. There are few finer sights than McMillan launching into his straight-drives. He suffered the selectors', and the New Zealand public's, opprobium last year, but he has answered them in the best fashion possible. There is nothing more that can be asked of a player than to respond with runs. McMillan has certainly done that.