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Twenty20 may not be his favourite game, but New Zealand's captain has proved to be a dab hand at it
September 19, 2007
Twenty20 has many fans, but some of the players are still to be convinced by the game. Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, doesn't think much of the format - "I hope Twenty20 cricket will only be part of the landscape and not the future of the game" - but that hasn't affected his performances on the field and his miserly left-arm spin has put New Zealand into the semi-finals of the ICC World Twenty20.
In domestic Twenty20, especially in England and South Africa, spin has played a key role in both restricting scoring-rates and taking wickets. Teams often have three or four slow-bowling options in their side, which means that the batsmen have to put their own pace on the ball. However at international level the challenge is different, with classier batsmen willing to use their feet and to hit through the line.
South Africa have packed their side with fast bowlers and are playing impressive cricket, while Australia have left out Brad Hogg for all their matches so far and gone with four frontline quicks. Even Sri Lanka didn't opt to play a specialist spinner in place of the injured Muttiah Muralitharan. But Vettori has shown that there is a place for top-quality spin, and it has proved fascinating viewing. "The only thing I've got is change of pace," he said after bowling his side to victory against India, but he was doing himself a great disservice.
Vettori is often the world's forgotten spinner but he remains right on top of his art. In Monty Panesar he has a challenger for the title of the best left-arm spinner in the game, but Panesar is a long way from mastering one-day cricket. Vettori has often had to carry the New Zealand attack in Tests and ODIs and bemoans the lack of five-day games his team gets to play. His last outing in whites was a two-match series against Sri Lanka in December 2006, and those were his first Tests since May that year. But he has become a master practitioner in the one-day game and has brought those skills to the World Twenty20.
In his first four matches he has taken 10 wickets with an economy rate of 5.06 - which would only be slightly unsatisfactory in one-day internationals. He has bowled with guile and intelligence, varying his pace and using the arm-ball with superb results. Against India, his 4 for 20 hauled in an innings that was quickly running away from New Zealand after Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir flayed 76 off the first six overs. When Sri Lanka comfortably beat New Zealand by seven wickets at Johannesburg, Vettori was the only bowler to escape severe punishment.
What makes Vettori's performance more impressive is the fact that he also bears the pressure of captaincy, which in Twenty20 can be an unforgiving experience
Against England, New Zealand were again having to fight to stay in the match when Vettori brought himself on. His fifth ball broke an opening stand of 62 between Darren Maddy and Vikram Solanki and he also crucially out-thought Kevin Pietersen who was threatening to launch an England onslaught. Further evidence that there is plenty of scope for bowlers to be match-winners in Twenty20.
What makes Vettori's performance more impressive is the fact that he also bears the pressure of captaincy, which in Twenty20 can be an unforgiving experience. "It is not easy ... because you don't know what you will run into," he said. "You might have the best of plans but they may all have to be discarded at the spur of the moment."
Captaincy will now be a full-time job for Vettori. It was always expected that he would replace Stephen Fleming, who stood down after the World Cup, in ODIs, but the Test job also came his way shortly before the World Twenty20 started. Although Vettori has previously led New Zealand as a stand-in for Fleming, this is the start of his first long-term stint. Having to find his feet in Twenty20 is a daunting start, but it will stand him in good stead.
Now all the decisions rest on Vettori's shoulders and regardless of how he views Twenty20 he approaches it with a professionalism that drives a desire for results. When Ross Taylor spilled Owais Shah during the Super Eights clash, the match was on a knife edge. Vettori knew it and flung his cap to the ground in frustration. He then took it upon himself to correct the mistake with a sharp piece of work to run out Shah next ball.
It is early days for Vettori, but the signs are that the pressure of captaincy doesn't adversely affect his own game. From a personal point of view he will want to prove himself as a leader in the more traditional forms, but the success of Twenty20 means he'll be leading New Zealand in plenty more of these matches in the years to come. If he actually enjoyed it he would be really dangerous.
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