Spinners September 28, 2009

One horse for this course

Can one of the other four finger-spinners upset Vettori?

It is not easy being a spinner in New Zealand. Neither the weather nor the pitches are conducive to spin bowling, which makes it a brave decision to try and make a living through spin. Until Daniel Vettori surfaced - the most successful spinner from New Zealand and the most successful left-arm orthodox overall - their job too was limited to being support cast to the fast bowlers. As expected, only one man from before the seventies makes it - Tom Burtt, who played 10 Tests in the forties and the fifties.

There must be something about left-arm spin in New Zealand: four of the five on this shortlist bowled slow left-arm orthodox. Wrist-spinners are expectedly conspicuous by their absence; perhaps New Zealand just isn't the place for them. The only right-arm contender here is offspinner John Bracewell, whose 41-Test career saw him achieve the double of 100 wickets and 1000 runs. The numbers, the stature, and the impact, though, all make one man on this list the clear favourite, and he also happens to be one of New Zealand's most powerful captains.

The contenders

Hedley Howarth Like the great Clarrie Grimmett, Howarth was born on Christmas Day. With the great Hedley Verity he shared his basic occupation, reserves of patience and first name, though not quite the results. Steady rather than spectacular, Howarth managed only two five-fors in a 30-Test career in which he got 86 wickets at around 37.

John Bracewell The eighties were perhaps the worst time to be a spinner, but Bracewell, bowling right-arm finger-spin, managed a strike-rate of less than 82. Only Abdul Qadir and Iqbal Qasim among regular spinners managed to take wickets more often in the decade.

Tom Burtt Stockily built, Burtt's biggest strength was the ability to keep hitting the same length with smart variations of flight. He was unorthodox in the sense that he used his middle finger to impart spin as opposed to the forefinger as orthodox left-armers do. His 408 first-class wickets at 22 were a New Zealand record before Richard Hadlee went past him.

Daniel Vettori Vettori was the youngest to play Tests for New Zealand, and has been difficult to keep out of the team since his debut 12 years ago. He recently went past Derek Underwood as the most successful left-arm spinner in the history of the game, is all set to become the second New Zealander to play 100 Tests, and could well creep up on Hadlee's New Zealand record of 431 wickets. His batting tilts the scales that much more.

Stephen Boock Boock had the prime virtue of a left-arm spinner, control, but his career coincided with the emergence of limited-overs cricket, and thus less respect for the spinners. In 30 Tests he managed 74 wickets at 34.64.

We'll be publishing an all-time New Zealand XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To vote for your top New Zealand spinner click here

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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