the curious case of daniel vettori

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.

nice chatting


Paul

Comments

Nige said…
Our God is full of grace and mercy
nemoidian said…
I love the fact that you are passionate about test cricket, there are few of us left!
Whilst the figures do not lie, one aspect that the stats do not tell is the lack of support Vettori has had over his years in the NZ cricket team. It is much easier to bowl a side out in the fourth innings when you have McGrath, Vaas,Younis, Akram or the like bowling at the other end. I tooo can't believe that Nicky Boje would be up there on the list but again maybe that is more because of the solidity of de villiers, donald et al.
Having said that i think most true cricket fans would be hard-pressed to place Vettori in the elite of test spinners - but in terms of a NZ cricketer there is no question that he occupies top spot both in terms of bowling and batting.
If NZ can come away from India not having been beaten by an innings the NZ public at least will be happy. Funny i am suddenly feeling a 'call' to india or maybe Sri Lanka : )
cheers
Shannon
Paul said…
Fair comment, Shannon - the great bowlers often 'hunt in pairs' as they say and Vettori has lacked a partner. However, as you are hinting as well, this does not really explain a decade of surprisingly poor performances late in Test matches.

Interestingly, the late 90s had Vettori performing far better and even spinning us to victory once or twice. Methinks that his back injuries caused him to change his action, reducing both his ability to spin the ball and then be effective in the fourth innings.
Barry said…
Hi Paul, good comments regarding Dan, maybe its just age, back trouble and weight of leadership responsibilities. I still love to see him come out and give it all he has got. I suppose there are some lessons for us all there.
Barry
Anonymous said…
Dan does not bend/turn it enough like Beckam! LOL!!!
Mark Maffey said…
I have a great deal of time for Dan the Man. Whilst he may not be a spinner in the sense of a Warne or Murali, what I appreciate is his guile and intelligence in the way he bowls to individual batsmen.

He is the best spinner NZ has produced and as he as aged he has developed the level headed maturity so often lacking in NZ cricketers, long may he be able to play for NZ
Greg said…
I'd take him into the Australian team at the moment for the Ashes. That's got to be some claim to value.
Paul said…
Ah, but Greg... you know what I am going to say, don't you?! How could you have left the door so open for me?

... that may say more about the state of spin bowling in Australia in the post-Warne years?
Greg said…
Serving up long hops so that others like you can bash them out of the park is about all I ask in life Paul - much like most of the Australian spinners at the moment!
Paul said…
I was a little surprised that no one commented on another reason why Vettori's stats are not impressive in the 3rd and 4th innings over the past decade.

What about the situation he is facing in this current test? The tendency for our batsmen not to score enough in their first innings to set up some meaningful competition in the 3rd and 4th innings? That must be very disspiriting for a spinner...
Gareth said…
I suspect had Vettori been bowling at the other end to Warne in late 90's/early 2000's Aussie teams, he'd have picked up a truckload of wickets - due to batsmen trying to relieve pressure (then again, most half decent bowlers would have!).


In the end, though, all that can't hide the fact that he's not really taken the wickets in 2nd innings he should had - or probably more accurately, that we all think he should have.

:-)

* comment form had trouble with the link... it loooked a little like this:
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