New Zealand View October 30, 2003

Daniel Vettori - bringing intelligence to spin bowling

Daniel Vettori has triumphed in conditions unsuited to spinners, and brings a unique intelligence to the craft

Every Thursday, Wisden Cricinfo's writers in Australia and New Zealand give us the Antipodean view on cricket. Here Lynn McConnell sizes up Daniel Vettori

Daniel Vettori - a freakish talent

There cannot be many worse places than New Zealand to be a spin bowler. Green tracks, moisture never too far away, and the natural environment reflecting the effects of regular rainfall all make the window of opportunity for dry, spin-friendly conditions very narrow.

Not that New Zealand has not produced spinners. The breaks in the weather have been sufficient for bowlers like Bill Merritt, Tom Burtt, Jack Alabaster, Alec Moir, Hedley Howarth, Stephen Boock and John Bracewell to play their part in New Zealand's role on the world stage. There is a heritage of left-arm spin in the domestic scene, too; it is not rich, but it is probably the most common spin-type in the history of the game here.

There is still that happy confluence of luck, timing, skill and potential which, when managed properly, offers even the least-equipped nation with a freakish player. And that is the category into which Daniel Vettori must fit - freak. Twenty-five on his next birthday, Vettori has been playing Test cricket for seven years, has taken 147 Test wickets, and battled for two of those seasons with the sort of back stress-fractures that usually plague fast bowlers.

To cap that off, the game's administrators have been forced, because the increasing encroachment of rugby into summer play snaps up all the venues best suited for big crowds, to bring in portable "drop-in" pitches, which so far have done nothing for the longevity of spinners' careers.

This summer, however, New Zealand Cricket has opted for cricket-specific venues for four of their five home Tests, with a token Test at the concrete jungle of Eden Park, where the grandstands may be empty but the boxes will be full. Yet, through it all, the freakish talent that Vettori possesses has seen him regarded as one of the first selected, whatever the conditions.

It is not because he might have something electrifyingly spiteful to offer with his bowling. Rather, it is the intellect he brings to flight and guile in conditions better suited to those who trundle off the production-line of medium-paced monotony. Because of the intelligence he brings to the craft, Vettori, barely out of school and pitted against England in his first-class debut, picked up Nasser Hussain as his maiden wicket and repeated the feat on the Test scene. That first-class debut made Steve Rixon, the highly competitive Australian coach, sit up and take notice.

Vettori will score a Test century, predicts Chris Cairns

As Vettori set his field in attacking mode, Rixon observed that, since he had started his coaching position, Vettori was the first left-arm spinner he had seen who didn't go straight into defence. Within two weeks Vettori, just 18, was playing Test cricket. It is extremely doubtful that New Zealand's selectors would have taken such a punt on a young player, and the quality that Vettori now brings to world cricket may have been like Thomas Gray's flower, "Born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air" that is domestic cricket.

Thankfully, that wasn't allowed to happen. Right place, right time, right skills, right results. He is now the best left-arm spinner in the world. Although that doesn't cut much ice with him. "It would be nice to be regarded as the best spinner in the world, as opposed to the best left-armer, because there are not too many left-armers about," he says in typical fashion, which while acknowledging where he is, also displays a level of ambition beyond.

Vettori is an analyst, and not just one from the video-and-CD-ROM world so prevalent in the game now. He finds it intriguing to watch other spin-meisters in action, whatever their persuasion. There must have been some satisfaction in going into the heart of the spin kingdom of India during the recent Test series and tying down batsmen who cut their teeth playing spinners. Vettori didn't go through them, but nor could they get after him in the benign conditions that even the India's spinners couldn't utilise.

Cricket's constant challenges keep Vettori going, and if the mental test can be sustained, who knows where he may end up? He may never challenge the figures eventually achieved by the Shane Warnes and Muttiah Muralitharans, but he has already set New Zealand records that will not be beaten in a generation. He is to spin bowling in New Zealand what Bert Sutcliffe was to batting two generations earlier.

Whizzbang fast bowlers come and go all too quickly, but there is a feeling that Vettori is in for the long haul. And besides, there's that prediction Chris Cairns once made: "Somewhere along the way, Daniel will score a Test century." The challenge is the thing - as long as the weather stays fine and allows him full value in New Zealand's conditions to develop the quality that will see him do even better overseas.

Lynn McConnell is editor of Wisden Cricinfo in New Zealand.