In God's grace and sovereignty I find myself on an extended visit to India at just the same time as the New Zealand cricket team is in India. Like I say, it is all God's sovereignty and none of my responsibility...
Captaining the New Zealand team here in India is one Daniel Vettori. Now I am a big fan of Dan the Man. I love watching youngsters excel and progress through to representing their country at an early age - like Vettori and now, Kane Williamson. I like my sportspeople being self-effacing, but intelligent and articulate - like Vettori. Then in more recent years Vettori has become captain, leading batsmen, leading bowler, selector - and maybe even coach, for all we know. While I consider being a selector and the coach to be unwise, it does say something about the respect in which he is held.
Daniel Vettori seems to be an exceptional cricketer and person, universally admired.
But for anyone interested in listening to my 'minority view', I do have questions about his performance as a spin bowler in Test cricket, even as our media can trumpet him as the best spin bowler in the world. Really?!
What is the chief role of the frontline spinner in a Test team? If you know your cricket, one thing ranks above all else. A spinner needs to take advantage of an aging pitch and bowl out the opposition in the third and fourth innings of the match. Simple as that. My question is this. When did Vettori last bowl us to victory in the fourth innings - or, it must be said, even bowl well in the fourth innings?
Having listened to my theories for a few years now, my son Stephen played with 'statsguru' on the cricinfo site to produce some stats for me.
Are you ready for this?
The first table lists the bowling averages of spin bowlers, in the third and fourth innings of a match, during the 2000s against Test teams other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. It lists all players who have taken at least 20 wickets in that situation. Cast your eye down the list and you know its reliable with the names that appear in the following order: Muralidharan (ave 21), Warne (ave 23), Saqlain (ave 24), Harbhajan (ave 24)... with Dan the Man (ave 48) appearing in 18th position after such luminaries in the spin-bowling art as Chris Gayle, Ashley Giles, and Nicky Boje. WOW!
Now I know what you cricket experts are thinking - and so does Stephen. "But poor old Vettori has to bowl in New Zealand most of the time where conditions do not help the spinner?" OK - so with no prompting from me Stephen is off checking on the stats when all matches in New Zealand are excluded and the qualification becomes just 15 wickets. What happens now? The leaders in this table have not changed much, but what has happened to Vettori? He has dropped to 24th with an average of 59.
While I agree with those who consider Vettori to be among the finest one-day bowlers in the world with his strength being his guile and containment, I remain unconvinced about his credentials as a great Test match bowler because in the area of greatest importance as a spinner, he has been mysteriously and woefully inadequate. Vettori is a great student of the game and he must be aware of this record. I wonder what he thinks about it?
There is more to this argument - but I think I'll keep my powder dry in the meantime.
Here's to Dan the Man spinning us to victory in the 2011 World Cup in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. Oh, by the way, in God's grace and sovereignty I will be in Sri Lanka during some of that time.