A warrior in cricket gear

Daniel Vettori is not so easily restricted. Wherever he goes, he arrives with an open mind and steely determination. Not even the Australians worry him, writes Peter Roebuck.

Daniel Vettori has the right idea about touring. Despite the plush hotels and vast wages and other comforts, many players grumble about life on the road. As a result tours have become short and hurried, leaving teams little time to adjust let alone mingle.

It has become a vicious circle. Poor preparation leads to defeat and a pounding in the press. Afterwards everyone rushes home to see their families and friends and to repair their reputations. Before long the debacle is forgotten.

Vettori is not so easily restricted. Wherever he goes, he arrives with an open mind and steely determination. Not even the Australians worry him. Everyone knows that touring the wide brown land is the game's toughest task. Timid cricketers grumble about the pitches, the papers, the crowds, the aggression, the language and the patriotism that is often dismissed as parochialism. Visiting teams often imitate porcupines, curling up into a tight group, raising spikes to protect themselves against enemies.

Happily the estimable Kiwi is made of sterner stuff. Asked about his approach to playing across the Tasman, the seasoned but still youthful spinner said that he enjoyed playing cricket in Australia and could not understand the reluctance voiced elsewhere. Most particularly he relished pitting himself against powerful and forthright opponents in their own backyard, as he could not think of a better way to measure himself.

Those emerging intact from a tour of the antipodes need fear no other adversary. Cricketers of this ilk do not seek the flattery of easy conquest. New Zealand's vice-captain had peeled away the skin. As far as he was concerned Australia provided sunny weather, dry tracks, large crowds, superb facilities, strong opposition, and a warm welcome. An intelligent observer versed in the history of the game, he realised that the hardships experienced by the modern player shrivelled beside those endured years ago, when tours lasted an entire season, when flies were everywhere, hotels dubious, contact sporadic, transport difficult, money tight, health uncertain and playing conditions unreliable.

Is it any wonder that Vettori prospers overseas? Repeatedly he has troubled the belligerent local batsmen. Often he has defied the formidable local bowler. He has many limitations with the ball and blade but his intelligence shines and his spirit endures. Unsurprisingly Australians hold him in high esteem. Not that he is a champion. Rather he is respected as a warrior in white clothes, a capable cricketer who wears his black cap with honour. His refusal to take a backward step or to make excuses confirms the strength of his mind. Australians recognise his sporting courage, and salute him.

Every touring cricketer ought to follow in Vettori's footsteps. Alas England's current motley crew have fallen in an abysmal heap. Many of them have been broken on the wheel. Steve Harmison's withdrawal from the World Cup tells the tale. Far from accepting his responsibilities and appreciating his position, he sought the comfort of his armchair and the reassurance of his soccer.

Meanwhile England's tour of Australia goes from bad to worse and in Adelaide they produced the worst batting display seen from an international team for 25 years. India is likewise doomed unless it finds hungry, unspoilt, adaptable players who regard foreign trips as a challenge. Any fool can succeed in his own backyard. Unfortunately a lot of money can be made without a player ever being forced to leave his comfort zone. A case can be made for ignoring performances at home and against weak opponents and to take heed only of achievements in matches that matter.