Dan the man

Beneath his scholarly looks, the bespectacled Daniel Vettori had steel in his bones. Gutsy and tenacious, he certainly was, writes S. Dinakar.

Both in victory and defeat, Daniel Vettori typified grace and dignity on the cricket field. He played his cricket hard, but often with a smile on his visage. A sense of calm in his methods was unmistakable. ‘Dan the Man’ was New Zealand’s hero for long.

Beneath his scholarly looks, the bespectacled Vettori had steel in his bones. Gutsy and tenacious, he certainly was.

The 2015 ICC World Cup final at the MCG was the 36-year-old Auckland-born all-rounder’s last match for New Zealand. Though New Zealand was beaten by Australia in the summit clash at a famous arena, Vettori, respected by adversaries and adored by fans, departed with his head held high.

His was an eventful career that began in 1997. At 18, Vettori was the youngest Kiwi to make his debut in Test, when he turned out for New Zealand against England in Wellington. He did not take long to make an impact.

The inherent qualities of Vettori’s cricket were visible to the discerning. The tightness of his game, whether turning his arm over or battling it out at the crease, added another dimension to the team. It was remarkable that Vettori eventually finished with 362 Test wickets, despite playing a lot of his cricket in New Zealand, where the conditions were hardly ideal for spinners.

The pitches at home were green and there wasn’t much wear and tear. Creditably, Vettori ended up with 159 scalps in 57 Tests at 37.11. He did so by harnessing the angles, using the crease and making subtle changes in pace. Of course, Vettori extracted bounce from the track; he employed revolutions on the ball.

The left-arm spinner often tied the batsmen down, created the pressure and struck when the adversaries tried to break the shackles. Being the lone spinner and combining with pacemen, the canny New Zealander displayed that precious ability to adapt.

Vettori had a useful arm ball as well. An old-fashioned player with enormous cricketing nous, he bowled with guile and conviction, set the batsman up before prising him out. His bowling was in accordance with his field placements.

Vettori’s 12-wicket match haul in the 2000 Test against Australia in Auckland was a striking effort. He used drift in a manner that was potent.

Vettori could send down long spells with unwavering accuracy. Although pegged back at different stages of his career by injuries — a stress fracture of the back being the most serious of them all — Vettori showed the resilience to fight back from fitness concerns.

With the willow, Vettori displayed both solidity and flair. Over the years, he evolved as a batsman for all formats. Whether in the late middle-order or the middle-order, Vettori put a price on his wicket. He was a hard man to dismiss, and like in his bowling, he used the angles capably.

Not a powerful striker of the ball, Vettori could play the ball late and find the gaps. Times without number, he rallied with the lower order and the tail. Vettori’s batsmanship laid emphasis on fundamentals. His 4531 runs in 113 Tests at 30.00 confirm his stature as one of the very few genuine all-rounders of this era.

In the limited-overs format, Vettori played rather cheeky shots to find gaps in the field and was an old hand at rotating the strike; such a critical but forgotten aspect of batting in any form of the game. The left-hander notched up six Test centuries. There was a phase between 2005 and 2011 when he was perhaps New Zealand’s most dependable batsman. Vettori’s batting possessed footwork and poise. He was strong in mind; temperament was his biggest ally. He was a suave, tactically sophisticated skipper, who comprehended the flow of the game. Vettori took over from the long-standing Stephen Fleming in 2007, guided New Zealand through a turbulent rebuilding phase when the side lost several players to the Indian Cricket League.

A skipper who led by example, Vettori guided the Kiwis to the final of the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa. There too, New Zealand was outplayed by Australia in the final.

Vettori cared for members of his tribe and did feel strongly about the shortening boundaries in the cricket arena. He once told Sportstar, “The boundaries are too small. If you make the boundaries longer, it will even the contest and the spinners will come into the picture more. I believe bigger boundaries will solve the problem.”

A lover of the traditional form of the game, Vettori wanted more sporting pitches for Tests. “There should be a little in it for the pacemen on the first day, then it should favour batsmen and deteriorate gradually to assist the spinners. The pitch should not play flat on the final day. The bounce should be good and consistent,” he said.

The Trans-Tasman World Cup was his swansong. The calming presence of Vettori will be missed.