Accuracy is his forte

Vettori is only the third player after Kapil and Botham to do the double of 4000 runs and 300 wickets in Test cricket.-K. BHAGYA PARKASH

Right from the day Vettori was spotted by former New Zealand coach Steve Rixon, it was evident that the spinner shouldered responsibility with great ardour. By Arun Venugopal.

Cocooned from nature's simmering tenor, New Zealand romances the Southerly winds that shower misty kisses. The temperate climes orchestrate the Kiwi way of life — relaxed, friendly and an ability to cherish the simple joys of life. Cricket, in harmony with the nation's character, serves more as a vehicle of gratification than that of ambition. New Zealand's handful of greats — The Sutcliffes, Reids, Turners, Hadlees and Crowes — were all either delectable willow wielders or high priests of swing bowling.

Spinners were definitely not on the menu. So when Daniel Vettori popped into the international scene in 1997, he was just another bespectacled lad of 18 who bowled with a whippy action. The mop of golden locks and gangly appearance contributed as much to the left-arm spinner stereotype as his batting position at number 11!

Cut to November 2010, a bearded Vettori sans tresses is playing his 100th Test for New Zealand (He has also represented the World XI in a Test match). There is however no outrageous display of euphoria. Saddled with the mantles of selection and captaincy of a side in free fall, Vettori has to galvanise his comrades into action against a formidable Indian team in Ahmedabad. No furrow, not a single frown. The genial champion puts his hand up one more time pacing his strides for unflinching marathon spells.

Right from the day Vettori was spotted by former New Zealand coach Steve Rixon, it was evident that the youngster shouldered responsibility with great ardour. Barely into his second first class game, Vettori turned up for Northern districts against the visiting Englishmen with remarkable alacrity. Rixon was pleasantly surprised by the boy's penchant for attacking the batsmen. Eventually, Vettori snared Nasser Hussain by enticing him into a drive. The spirited coach had seen enough to punt on the callow tweaker. Even as Vettori was fast tracked into the national side, Rixon saw in him a panacea for New Zealand's spinning woes.

So Vettori went through his rite of passage debuting against England in the second Test at Wellington. Vettori managed a haul of two wickets. Not groundbreaking but the spark of promise was discernible. His willingness to soldier on bowling close to 35 overs gladdened many a classicist.

An uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter notwithstanding, Vettori isn't a spinner who would bamboozle batsmen with a lavish gamut of wizardry. The ball doesn't ‘buzz' through the air or ‘hiss' off the wicket. Vettori's accuracy along with intricate flight deception beguiles hapless batsmen. The changes in pace, as understated as the man himself, pose many an uncomfortable query. Sadly though, the fragile Kiwi batting has often reduced him to a defensive operator.

The Auckland-born Vettori soon made his debut in one-day internationals. Within a span of two months, he had become the youngest man to represent his nation in both versions of the game. It was in September 1997 that his innate batting ability surfaced when he notched up 90 against Zimbabwe in a defiant rescue effort. The high point in Vettori's bowling career came three years later in March when he pocketed 12 Aussie scalps enroute to becoming the youngest spinner to join the 100-wicket club. With dusty turfs practically non-existent in New Zealand, Vettori's feat was special. Neither Howarth nor Boock had reached the three figure mark. Only John Bracewell had more wickets than Vettori in the country's spin bowling roster.

The proclivity for heavy workload soon took a toll on Vettori's back as stress fractures put him out of action for several months. Subsequently, the bowler made a successful comeback after remodelling his action. With five half-centuries and a mean of 17, Vettori the batsman clearly hadn't set the marquee ablaze. Many hours were spent honing strokeplay besides tightening technique.

The hard yards reached fruition around the end of 2003 when he scored an unbeaten maiden ton against Pakistan in his 49th Test.

As his stocks soared in the batting department, the bowling nose-dived. His inability to turn the ball unlike many of his contemporaries copped quite a bit of flak. For a period of one year from June 2003, Vettori's statistics struck discordant notes as he averaged 76 with the ball and 41 with the bat. But it wasn't long before Vettori rediscovered the allure of the scented leather grabbing 20 wickets in a two-Test series against Bangladesh. He has ever since achieved an enviable balance between bat and ball rising well above the mediocrity that engulfs the team. Vettori is only the third player after Kapil Dev and Ian Botham to do the double of 4000 runs and 300 wickets.

A unique honour beckoned Vettori as he was selected to play for the World XI for the Super Series against Australia. Besides coming up with superlative performances, he forged lasting friendships with fellow legends such as Warne and Muralidaran reinforcing the spirit of ‘Spin brotherhood'.

Vettori's career contrasts with that of the legendary Richard Hadlee in many ways, especially with regard to captaincy. The latter, for all his talismanic prowess, was often accused of locking himself in an ivory tower.

Consequently, he was never considered for captaincy. On the other hand, Vettori's humble demeanour and sportsmanship have endeared him not only to his peers but also to the entire cricketing fraternity. The eventual ascension to the top job came when Stephen Fleming was dropped for the ICC World Twenty 20 in 2007. However, it was a difficult baptism as the Kiwis lost several players due to injuries and defections to the Indian Cricket League. More defeats followed, suddenly there was no coach and the Black Caps found themselves languishing at No. 8 in the ICC rankings.

The skipper doubled up as the coach and even secured a formal voting right in the selection committee. Vettori's involvement as a selector has come in for criticism from former team-mates like Shane Bond and Nathan Astle.

There have also been several arguments about Vettori being overburdened but the man in question refuses to buy into such theories. Comparisons with Fleming do linger and the 31-year-old's tactical acumen has come under scrutiny when put under the pump. However, despite successive defeats in Bangladesh and India, the ace spinner has been grace personified and remains optimistic about the future.

Vettori has indicated the possibility of relinquishing captaincy at the end of next year's World Cup. Given his competitive zeal, he would dearly love to fill his nation's cabinets with silverware. Vettori's aggression has been of the refined variety quite unlike that of his All Blacks counterparts. But if his team replicates the latter's success stories, then it won't be such a bad idea to unleash the Haka Ka Mate.