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Daniel Vettori's parents remember his Test debut and the days before it
March 26, 2010
Robyn Vettori still remembers the day her son, just turned 18, stepped out onto the Basin Reserve for his Test debut. She was nervous; Daniel wasn't. Or at least, it didn't show. He'd become an adult 10 days earlier, had just enrolled in a health sciences course at university with the hope of becoming a pharmacist, and all of a sudden was playing cricket for his country.
Thirteen years later, Robyn and Renzo Vettori will be there once again to watch their boy become only the second New Zealander to play 100 Tests. Except that he's not a boy any more. He's the captain of his country, a loving husband and father to one-year-old James. He's also one of the most accomplished players in the world.
"I can still remember him walking out for his first Test and I had two cups of tea in my hands and they were shaking as he walked across the ground," Robyn says. "And I can remember thinking, 'He always looks so relaxed when he walks out there.' He'll probably be the same again.
"For him, inside it will feel like a great achievement but he always keeps it pretty close to his chest. We'll reminisce a bit that, goodness me, he walked out there as an 18-year-old and now he's a man, he's a father. But he'll come home and James will be running around and it will all just be normal."
It will help that the milestone is arriving in Hamilton. Robyn, a nurse, and Renzo, who works for a dairy company, live only a ten-minute drive from Seddon Park, the venue of Daniel's debut for Northern Districts when he was 17. Hamilton is a small city and they will both be there, along with other family and friends, for the big day on Saturday.
The fame, money and travel involved in elite cricket these days makes it easy to forget that international players are just normal people, from normal families. Parents are always proud of their offspring and the Vettoris are no different; their walls bear photos of weddings and grandchildren, and Renzo has kept scrapbooks of his son's sporting journey.
There are 10 books, with photographs and articles dating back to the time when a 15-year-old Daniel, who was also a talented soccer player, fractured his vertebrae when the bus carrying his football team crashed. Then there's the back page that screams "But he's only 18!" when he was first named in the New Zealand team.
Renzo nearly ran off the road when he picked up his car-phone back in 1997 and was told to pack for Wellington to watch his son in the Test team. It was a remarkable achievement, especially given that it was only three years earlier that Daniel had taken up spin, after toiling as a frustrated medium-pacer in the school team.
But Daniel Vettori had always shown natural sporting ability. It's not really surprising, given that his mother's side of the family boasts rugby league legend Ken Stirling and Olympic swimmer Glenda Stirling, while on Renzo's side Daniel is a cousin of the former All Blacks fly-half David Hill and first-class cricketer Joseph Hill.
Soccer and cricket were the two sports that Daniel starred in as a child - he took up cricket as a seven-year-old when the family lived in Sydney - and his competitive nature was on display from an early age. Robyn remembers the day her 11-year-old son was supposed to head to Auckland to play in an Under-14 representative soccer team, only for the bus driver to forget him.
"He was most distraught and I thought, 'Hmm, this is a bit strange,' but I probably realise now there was this absolute competitiveness there. Contained, but competitive and a quiet confidence in himself."
It was that same nature that drove the young Vettori to head off to play for representative teams during his school holidays most summers, meaning he usually missed the family trips to the beach. Not that he didn't want to be with his parents, brother Nicholas and sister Kimberly; he is a loyal family man.
He was close to his grandparents; Renzo's father was a concrete worker who moved out from the Italian village of Roncone in the Dolomites when Renzo was six. When Daniel hit the big time, his grandparents loved it. "It was nuts. They suddenly became cricket experts," Renzo says. "It was the last thing they knew, or thought they knew."
Watching their son play is still a nerve-wracking experience for Renzo and Robyn, especially since he has become captain. But when he comes home to visit - Daniel now lives in Auckland with wife Mary and baby James - the conversation usually veers away from the game.
"There's not much cricket talk when he comes home. It's anything but, really," Renzo says. "You might ask him a few questions about this or that but it's not an interrogation, it's just anything else but cricket."
"I think he needs that," Robyn says of Daniel's escape from cricket when he's around his family. "He's not exactly captaining a winning team all the time so he needs that getaway from it, to become a dad and husband."
Come Saturday, he'll still be dad, husband, son, brother. He'll also be the second New Zealander to reach 100 Tests, and no doubt his parents will be more nervous than he is.
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