Daniel Vettori January 19, 2008

'Spinners are fans of spinners'

Interview by Utpal Shuvro
Daniel Vettori talks about the brotherhood of spinners, captaincy, his all-round capabilities, left-armers, and an unwanted nickname

Vettori: frequently mistaken by Australian girls for a boy wizard © AFP

From being the golden boy of New Zealand cricket to now leading the captain under whom he played pretty much throughout his career, Daniel Vettori has seen the emergence of the golden age of spin bowling and is still standing even as it draws to a close. He is a fan more than anything when he watches fellow spinners, he says in this interview.

After having made your Test debut at 18, how far have you come in your career?
I suppose I was a little bit lucky with the selection at that time. At 38, Dipak Patel was close to the end of his career. They were looking for someone new and I had done well in the Under-19 tournaments. Steve Rixon watched me in my first first-class match and thought I had done enough and gave me a chance. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but pretty exciting as well to get a chance to play for your country at 18.

Your emergence coincided with the golden age of spin bowling. There were a lot of quality spinners around - Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq. Now Warne has retired and Muralitharan and Kumble are nearing the ends of their career. Do you think the golden age of spin is also coming to an end?
It's hard to say. Those three were pretty exceptional bowlers, and when you throw in the likes of Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mustaq, you get arguably five of the greatest spinners to play the game. When you take those numbers of players out of the equation, it's obviously not going to be as good as it was.

But you've still got some wonderful bowlers around the world. I love watching Harbhajan Singh bowl. Danish Kaneria is a fantastic bowler - probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves. So there are still some good bowlers playing. But when you take Warne and Muralitharan out of the equation, obviously you are leaving a big gap.

Of all the great spinners of your time, who did you look up to?
I love watching spin bowlers bowling, no matter who it is. But probably Warne was at the top of the list. Warne was always the most exciting to watch. I loved the way he played the game, loved his ability to work players out, and over a period of time generally dismiss them. I love watching Muralitharan just for his natural ability. Kumble as well. I love to watch the way Kumble and Harbhajan bowl in tandem, particularly in their own conditions. Also, when they go overseas and changes have to be made. I think I am a fan more than anything when I watch the spinners.

About Warne, it was not only his bowling: the way he came to bowl, the way he appealed, he created a sense of theatre around him.
I think he worked everything out. He worked out how to get a batsman with the ball, and how to get the decisions from the umpires when he needed to. I think it's the overall package. He was just a master doing everything he needed to do to dismiss a batsman.

When you lose a great like him, you inevitably lose a little bit of colour. But people always come in and step into the fold. Every time a great retires, people worry that something is gone out of the game. But generally someone steps up, and you will see someone ... maybe not take his place, but step up to lift the game.

As long as you never back away from a tough situation, and make sure that you are the one in the hardest spot to bowl, I think most people will respect you as a bowler and as a captain

You've described yourself as a fan of spin bowling. During the ICC Super Series in Australia, I saw you, Warne, Muralitharan and [Stuart] MacGill have a great time together. Do the spinners see themselves as a community? Do you share secrets?
I think the spinners do feel like that. Whenever you go to a dressing room and have a beer after the game, it's normally a fellow spinner you love to see and chat about things with. I think there is a mutual appreciation - how everyone does his craft, how hard it can be sometimes and how funny other times. You will generally find that spinners will get together whenever they get an opportunity. Some share secrets, some don't. Muralitharan is more than happy to tell you anything. He has always been very good to talk to.

Maybe the reason is that he knows no one else can do the things he does.
(Smiles) Maybe, maybe. But he has always been fantastic to talk to. And anything you need or want out of him, he is more than happy to give. I think, like I said, it comes from [being part of the] fan base. I think the spinners love watching other spinners bowl. He also enjoys it when another spinner gets smashed around a little bit, which makes his job a touch easier. I guess it's the fan thing more than anything.

Do you agree that left-arm spinners are the least glamorous of the lot?
I think it's because normally left-arm spinners are sort of gangly guys who can't field and don't really bat much. So people think that's all the left-arm spinner does - bowling. But there are a few exceptions these days.

I don't think it [the preconception] is as prevalent in this day and age, except that more people are following the Warne mantle with the legspin. Then you have seen what Muralitharan has done with the ability to bowl the doosra. I think that's a little bit more exciting than just bowling the left-arm fingerspin. But you see some new guys coming in too. Monty Panesar has done exceptionally well. It shows that you can be successful at Test cricket by bowling left-arm spin.

Daniel Vettori is certainly not that gangly guy who can only bowl. You have got two Test centuries and recently completed the double of 200 wickets and 2000 runs. Do you consider yourself an allrounder?
Yeah, I think so. In the last four to five years, my average in Test cricket has been really pleasing for me. I have put together consistent scores. It's something that I really worked hard on. I am disappointed about my inability to bat for longer periods in the early part of my career - something that I had to rectify. I have managed to do that in the last few years and get to a stage to be considered an allrounder and get chances to bat higher in the order. But I am pretty comfortable at No. 8 at the moment.

Has there been any batsman you have bowled to and wished you were not there?
It has happened a few times. It always depends on the size of the ground. When you have got a smaller one, you are a little bit discordant. [Adam] Gilchrist has always been exceptionally tough to bowl to. He is aggressive and does not seem to hold back. Rahul Dravid ... not a nightmare, but I always just found it difficult to bowl to him. He doesn't tear you to pieces or smash you all over the park, but you just think you are never going to get him out.

Are you enjoying the captaincy?
Yes, it's going well so far. I had a difficult baptism in South Africa and Australia, where we weren't able to play up to our level. Accordingly we lost a majority of the games. Came back home and had a good series against Bangladesh, which we were expected to win.

We are playing some good cricket at the moment, but I suppose the test for us and my captaincy is the England series that's coming up. There are a lot of expectations around. I think that's when I will find out if I am enjoying the captaincy or have the temperament for the job. At the moment I think I am enjoying it. I have a good group around me, particularly Brendon McCullum, the vice-captain. That makes it a little bit easier. Let's see how it goes.

Used car salesmen Inc: 'I think there is a mutual appreciation - how everyone does his craft, how hard it can be sometimes and how funny other times' © Getty Images

Does having a former captain of the stature of Stephen Fleming help? Or does it put extra pressure on you?
I played all my ten years basically under Stephen's captaincy. I think it's one of the reasons that I succeeded at times, the way he captained me and captained the team. I know he is disappointed that his term did not continue. But it's pretty exciting to still have him in the team and having his knowledge around the group.

As a bowling captain do you find that at times you run the risk of under-bowling or over-bowling yourself?
I think so. The tag on most bowling captains is that they under-bowled themselves; it's not often you hear that they over-bowled. I think I have got the balance reasonably right. You don't always get it right, but as long as you never back away from a tough situation, and make sure that you are the one in the hardest spot to bowl, I think most people will respect you as a bowler and as a captain. I think stepping away from those tough situations is probably not the right thing for a captain, particularly if you are a bowler.

Do you like your nickname, Harry Potter?
(Smiles) Only the Australian girls call me Harry Potter, and that's normally sandwiched between a couple of swear words. None of my team-mates call me that.

Utpal Shuvro is a veteran Bangladeshi journalist, and the sports editor of Prothom Alo