Renzo and Robyn still have the newspaper clipping. It’s faded, its text almost yellowing, but you can’t miss the headline: ‘But he’s only 18!’ It’s about their second son who was set to make his debut for New Zealand in 1997. No newspaper is now screaming the headline, ‘But he’s 36!’ Daniel Vettori’s age is still making headlines but no one is cribbing. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
You could understand that early headline though. New Zealand isn’t like the subcontinent, prone to giving kids a go and considering Vettori had just played two first-class games, the astonishment in the headline was understandable. There is a nice symmetry about his first games . In his first-class debut, for Northern Districts against touring England, he had Nasser Hussain caught by Bryan Young at first slip and the script was the same in his first Test. Those deliveries spun. He doesn’t turn the ball much these days and that’s why his longevity is even more astounding.
These days, Vettori the ODI bowler is a lot more fun to watch than the Test version. If the batsmen shut shop, and are content to push things around, he can turn in quiet spells, which we, as watchers, can drift in and out of action. Not so, the ODI bowler. He demands intense watching. It’s not the parabolas he makes, or the changes in pace or the immaculate length he bowls — all these catch attention — but it’s in sussing out what he is thinking that makes it fascinating. His art is almost a cerebral activity to watch at least. You can see what he is doing; nag the hell out of the batsman by his sheer control but also ball by ball, you can see him trying to anticipate and outthink the batsman.
Fun to watch
Spin bowlers going for a wicket are extremely fun to watch. Vettori the ODI bowler, even though he might just be trying to tie up the batsmen and produce an error out of their impatience or greed to score runs, is equally fascinating. He rarely allows anyone to cut him; his arm ball just doesn’t come gently with the arm but swerves in the air like an inswinger; his quicker one can be really pacy and even when he pitches the rare ball short, his reputation makes batsmen think a bit about any possible trap before they go for the cut.
And so it was immensely interesting to watch him bowl in Auckland against Australia. Trent Boult and Mitchell Starc got all the attention that day but it was Vettori who bowled the best. The boundaries were short on square and Aussies were on top when Vettori came on to bowl early. How would the man who doesn’t like to be cut bowl on such a ground? He shortened his length more than usual but his pace had cranked up a bit. And he continued to vary it — quickish, quick, slow, slower, quick, and suddenly, the full length and lots of arm balls. The combination tied up the Aussies and fetched him wickets.
There was this analytical piece about him in the Herald the other day. They went through every ball he bowled in this World Cup and came up with staggering numbers. “Of the legal deliveries he’s bowled, batsmen have only tried to find the boundary 11.8 per cent of the time. Compare that to 36 per cent of his deliveries where the strikers have not attempted to score at all and it tells of a bowler at the top of his craft.” It certainly does.
We know that he is a sort of a reluctant hero for New Zealand. Over the years, he has hardly spoken much about himself and the local journalists say he hasn’t changed that much. His parents have talked about how even as a youngster he used to remove his trophies from the cabinet at home. “Fame hasn’t affected him in a negative sense at all. I don’t believe that, he’s just learned to live with it,” his father Renzo said a few years back. “He doesn’t particularly like it. I think he found it mystifying at first, to be quite honest.”
Considering he wasn’t even supposed to be playing this year after injuries almost forced him into retirement, this second coming has been something really special.