New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Hamilton, 1st day March 18, 2009

'We stuck to how we both know to play' - Vettori

Daniel Vettori can be an irritating tailender, robbing the momentum from the opposition, playing little dab shots, with soft hands, and taking single after single. Jesse Ryder can be a pretty flashy batsman in one-day cricket. He usually opens with Brendon McCullum in limited-overs cricket, and looks to blast the bowling from the first over on. On the first day of the Hamilton Test, both showed that they are capable of much more.

Vettori gets to play very little for Northern Districts, his state side, due to his international commitments, but last year when he did, he opened for them in the Twenty20s. Given how he played today, he could just as well have opened in the Tests. Ryder, meanwhile, showed today he is capable of a perfect Test-match innings, batting in a composed manner with wickets falling around him. His captain was suitably impressed: "They [the people who think he is one-dimensional] haven't quite seen the subtleties of his game."

When the two came together today, they had to keep alive a Test match, and perhaps a series. At 60 for 6, there was a fairly good chance of New Zealand being bowled out for less than 100 on a pitch that would ease out after the first session. At 60 for 6, it would have been easy to hit around in desperation. "When you are 60 for six," Vettori said later, "you think, 'Let me have a swing, if it comes off it comes off, if it doesn't we are in no worse situation.' So it was important to stick to how we both know to play. We are both aggressive players, but if we had gone too hard at it, we would have got ourselves in trouble." They didn't get themselves in trouble; far from that. They got the team out of some.

Ryder is a compact player, with such strong wrists and forearms that he doesn't need to go searching for room to free his arms to generate power in his shots. He did go searching in the initial part of his innings, getting one streaky boundary through gully, but quickly regained his solidity after that. He made bowlers bowl to him, and when he cover-drove he presented very little gap between bat and pad.

"They [great batsmen] respect good bowlers and they respect guys running in and doing a job," Vettori said. "When they sense an opportunity to be a bit more aggressive then they do that. We saw that throughout Jesse's innings today. I can't think of a chance that went down and I can't think of too many that went past the bat." Ryder was 12 when New Zealand lost their sixth wicket, but for the next 65 runs of his innings it hardly ever seemed he was batting with a No. 8.

That No. 8 is a highly underrated batsman himself. In an ideal world, only an extremely strong batting line-up would be able to keep Vettori down at No. 8. The New Zealand batting isn't the strongest going around, and it forces the captain to take extra responsibility with the bat, regardless of the position at which he comes in. Last year when New Zealand were facing humiliation, chasing 317 after having been bowled out for 171 against Bangladesh, Vettori promoted himself and made a match-winning 76.

Today, in scoring his third century, and the first as captain, he showed qualities that a top-order batsman would have been proud of. Soft hands were the first of them. Even when the fast bowlers induced edges, they fell short of the slips, much to the frustration of the bowler and fielders. That is where Vettori was different from the McIntoshes and the Guptills. Slowly he came to terms with the pitch, and started working his wrists around.

Vettori has the ability to shape up for a drive, and then use his wrists to direct the ball square on the off side, straight down the pitch, or into the on side. Three boundaries in three overs in the middle of the innings highlighted that ability. First, Munaf was driven wide of mid-on; in the next over he drove straight and again beat the same fielder. Then, he reached out for a drive against Harbhajan Singh, found the delivery too wide, and rolled the wrists on it, keeping the ball along the ground and beating the point fielder.

By the time Vettori had got out, he had scored a century that only vindicates his batting potential. But there was unfinished business for Ryder. A superb season so far needed a defining milestone, one that would confirm his coming of age. Ryder's century didn't come without drama. From 77 to 98 he moved in Iain O'Brien's company, and scored the next four in the unreliable company of Chris Martin.

He reached the century with a short-arm pull, with a spread-out field, showing how strong those wrists and forearms are. Today, along with Vettori, they carried New Zealand and kept them in the match.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo