February 28, 2012

Missing Dan

New Zealand have struggled in the limited-overs games against South Africa, without Vettori to hold one end down

The extent to which New Zealand are missing Daniel Vettori as a key limited-overs slow-bowling option has been highlighted against South Africa. Vettori's replacements are yet to show the same flight, drift, speed and angle variations on the world stage. To be fair, they should not be expected to yet - it takes a lot of time to displace the experience gleaned from 272 one-day internationals and 28 Twenty20 internationals - but it could be a sign New Zealand has work to do to match Vettori's input.

While Vettori has been preparing himself for the Test series by playing first-class cricket with top-of-the-table Northern Districts, New Zealand have struggled to tie down an end against South Africa. Vettori would have been useful with his valuable repertoire of deliveries, bowling to some of the world's best batsmen, like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers in the shorter formats.

The onus is on Nathan McCullum, Rob Nicol, Tarun Nethula and Kane Williamson to restrict the visitors in the final two one-day internationals this week. However, small grounds and pitches that have been giving little assistance to any form of bowler mean progress has been minimal.

There is talk Vettori is open to returning to the one-day ranks, possibly in time for the World T20 in Sri Lanka in September. This seems unlikely, though, given he has a young family, a lucrative IPL contract captaining Royal Challengers Bangalore, and numerous prestigious Test records in his sights.

Vettori has an international economy rate of 4.12 in ODIs and 5.36 in T20s. Such figures have frustrated opponents since 1997; they have often been cause for batsmen to lash out against bowlers at the other end. By comparison Nicol was the best of the New Zealand bowlers in the South African T20s (6.60 runs an over); McCullum chipped in with the best economy rate (3.57) without taking any wickets in the opening one-dayer. Over their careers McCullum (4.79 runs an over in 32 ODIs, 6.49 in 32 T20s) and Nicol (6.22 in 7 ODIs and 7.05 in eight T20s) are less restrictive but comparable to Vettori in the wicket-taking stakes. Nethula - and Roneel Hira for the T20s - are tidy operators but works-in-progress, while Williamson seems more of a go-to-guy if they're looking for a few stock overs of offspin or a sudden breakthrough, rather than a full-time option.

Meanwhile Vettori has been gearing for the upcoming Tests. He took nine wickets at 18.67 in a series of decent spells for Northern Districts against Central Districts in Gisborne and Canterbury in Rangiora which resulted in outright wins. His best bowling was 5 for 89 in 33.1 overs to win the latter match. He also produced batting scores of 17 and 46 in that game.

Vettori is also edging towards a couple of significant milestones that will define his Test career. At his current wicket-taking pace of 3.3 wickets per match, he will pass Richard Hadlee's 431-wicket mark during the tour by the West Indies in 2013-14. With 4389 Test runs and 356 wickets he is also fast closing on Indian allrounder Kapil Dev's unique territory as the only Test cricketer to score more than 5000 runs and take more than 400 wickets.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday