One of the joys of Twenty20 cricket, still a young format, has been watching Daniel Vettori bowl. A self-styled skinny man with glasses, he's pitted against bats powered by Popeye biceps - manufacturing new shots every day - and boundaries that converge with increasing frequency. And in 56 overs in his Twenty20 international career, he has given away only 300 runs.
The Popeye biceps didn't do too badly today. Brendon McCullum was far from his explosive self but stayed calm till the end and scored nine off the last three balls to take New Zealand to the win. He acknowledged, though, that the win was set up much earlier, in the first innings of the match. The skinny man with glasses had a lot to do with that - not only as a bowler but as a captain.
The stats tell a story. He has played all his Twenty20 internationals as New Zealand's captain but his ODI figures are a good indicator of how he has raised his game with responsibility. In ODIs he has captained, he averages 26.19 and gives away runs at 3.72 an over, as opposed to 33.95 and 4.27 in matches where he did not lead. As a captain he is prone to the three habits bowling captains are partial to: he usually brings himself on pretty early, chooses to attack when in doubt and picks the most difficult time to bowl. In these two Twenty20s, like a true bowling captain, he has put India in twice.
But good bowlers justify bowling a lot and coming on early, and they can get themselves the best possible fields. The kind of start India had in the first match of the series would have scared any bowler. But Vettori came on in the sixth over. His first over went for two runs and yielded Yuvraj Singh's wicket. Today, with India making a more sedate start, he held himself back and, when he did come on in the eighth over, he applied the brakes, negating the momentum in the middle overs. Yuvraj did hit him for two back-to-back sixes, but his response was typical: one run and a wicket in the next over. The sixes excepted, he gave away nine runs in 22 balls.
This was his third Twenty20 against India, and this was the third time he choked the life out of the "most destructive" batting line-up in the middle overs. Three matches, 59 runs, six wickets. Only Umar Gul has a better economy rate among bowlers who have played at least eight games. There've been 85 Twenty20 internationals so far and, though it might be a small sample, it will be fair to say the two have been the best Twenty20 bowlers.
Vettori enjoys the challenge. Though he lacks Gul's armoury, he is a thinking bowler. He exploits the crease and bowls the orthodox delivery at different paces, as opposed to using the arm ball as the only change of pace. All this while, his approach to the wicket and his arm speed don't give much away. And he's especially effective when he bowls really slowly, which takes big heart.
Vettori is the rock on which his team is built, a trait best revealed in the frenzied Twenty20 format. He took over under difficult circumstances but has kept the faith and earned the respect of his teammates. He's a bit like Anil Kumble: not one for big talk (or hakas as he says) and a quietly fierce competitor, belying his art. Unlike Kumble, though, Vettori has become the captain at the right time, in the prime of his bowling career, and can look forward to at least a few more years at the helm. Bowling captains have found an unlikely hero: a skinny man who wears glasses.