Martin makes his wait worth it
No New Zealand player had waited longer for a Test debut than Bruce Martin when he was handed his cap in Dunedin last week after 115 first-class matches. The contrast with the man he's covering for could hardly be greater. Daniel Vettori made his debut, as a bespectacled 18-year-old, after two games in 1997.
Vettori is hoping to make his first tentative steps back into action next week when he plays in the domestic Ford Trophy one-day competition having not appeared for New Zealand since the World Twenty20. Martin, with nine wickets in a Test-and-a-half, is comfortably the most successful stand-in they have had since the tour of West Indies last year.
However, it would just be Martin's luck if Vettori proved his fitness in time for the England tour in May. There is room for both in a squad, but missing out would not be a foreign concept for him. "I wish someone had picked two left-arm spinners. He was a thorn in my side, so to speak, but he was a good fella to learn off as well," Martin said.
Watching Martin bowl, it's as though he has done more than just learn off Vettori with an action and delivery that looks like a clone. "Everyone says it, but it's just the way I bowl. I happen to look a bit like him, without the glasses."
Before his recall to the squad that toured South Africa earlier this year, the closest Martin had come before was being in a squad against Australia in 2000. Yes, that's right, when Vettori was injured. Thirteen years later, in Dunedin, his opportunity came and he finished with a highly creditable five wickets in the match. Four more followed in England's first innings at the Basin Reserve on a surface that "turned more than I've had this season." It would have been five if the DRS had not been around to save Matt Prior from an lbw decision.
"I've had 13 years to visualise playing Test cricket," he said. "I've been playing this game for a long time in my head, so it's nice to get out there and have a crack. Today was good, I picked up some pretty big wickets."
The reserves of knowledge those years of toil on the domestic circuit helped him to build up are not to be underestimated especially when Kevin Pietersen dispatches your first ball of the day straight down the ground for six. The fact that Pietersen could not do it again, and more than once found himself in a bit of tangle against Martin, is credit to the bowler who certainly did not take a backward step.
"It's nice to test yourself against a guy like that. He's pretty ruthless the way he gets forward and gets back, such a big fella, and it was hard to get past him there at times. He's such an imposing figure with the bat. I wanted to try and get in the fight a little bit, let him know I was there."
Such has been the dominance of New Zealand's spin department by Vettori, that in the 16 years since his debut in 1997, the next most successful spinner for them in Tests has been Paul Wiseman with 61 scalps. Martin is already fifth on the list with his nine. Kane Williamson is one above him.
However, as strange as it may sound regarding a bowler with 360 Test wickets, never mind 4516 runs, does Vettori walk back into the New Zealand side? In his last nine Tests, which date back to January 2011, he has taken 21 wickets at 41.57 which includes a five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe. Clearly, you do not leave out a cricketer of Vettori's calibre without a great deal of thought, but time catches up with everyone.
In those same nine Tests Vettori averages 28.93 with the bat, with a hundred against Pakistan, so he still brings all-round value but Martin showed, with a bristling 41 in Dunedin, that he was not a rabbit. Martin is not going to lose the enjoyment of the moment by thinking about the future.
"Every time I get a bowl out there I just treat it as my last Test and I've got to perform," he said. "That's kind of what's like when you are my age. You have to keep putting the numbers up there and make them pick you. It's all gone past so quick that it's a bit of a blur to be honest. Test, sleep, Test. It's a way it's nice to get a bit of reward for 100-odd games of toil."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo