Cricket: Spirit is with the virtuous Vettori

Graeme Wright at Lord's sees character triumph over charisma
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The Independent Online
AN ADVANTAGE of editing Wisden no longer is that I don't always read it from cover to cover. So it has come to me late in the day that the current editor, in this Almanack, has been aiming currant-bun comments at my countrymen, calling New Zealand the world's least charismatic team.

The criticism stung, particularly as the grapeshot selection is off-beam. According to the Shorter Oxford and Chambers dictionaries, the word means a spiritual power given by God - not too relevant to cricketers that one - or a personal quality or gift that enables an individual to impress and influence his fellows. Chris Cairns' bowling on Thursday, Matthew Horne's gutsy day-long hundred on Friday and Daniel Vettori's night watchman's 50 yesterday morning showed that New Zealand has cricketers with those qualities. Cricketers, incidentally, who have that other "ch" word, character, in spades.

Maybe the charisma quip shows a preference for style over content, that bane of modern English life. It is true that New Zealanders are not unduly frilly in the way they do things, whether it is climbing Mount Everest first, unravelling the atom or winning the America's Cup, not to forget the men in black who gave the oval ball an airing in between milking and mustering before rugby embraced professionalism.

What New Zealand cricket does not have in excess are those mythological figures beloved of small English boys packed off to county grounds in anoraks stuffed with Playfair Annuals and spam sandwiches. In a country where most people pursue some kind of outdoor activity, the game is something of a minority sport. Six first-class teams to England's 18 counties and from those it is a struggle to select a Test-strength touring team.

The one-day game has been the salvation of cricket in New Zealand. It certainly hasn't harmed the game there that New Zealand made the semi- finals of the recent World Cup ahead of (presumably) more charismatic countries such as England, India, West Indies and Sri Lanka, not to forget Zimbabwe.

Vettori's 50 won't have done any harm either, coming as it did off 94 balls at a time of crisis for the Kiwis. Scholarly-looking schoolboys wearing glasses now have a particular hero after the 20-year-old spinner's entertaining time at the crease. When the ball was there to hit he put it away with real panache. As for two- stepping down the pitch to Phil Tufnell to reach his 50 with a 4 through extra cover, that was almost flash.

By adding 116 yesterday from 212 balls, the Kiwi lower order made sure that Friday's hard work was not in vain. The upper-order grind may not have been pretty but in the context of the Test match it was effective and essential. Rather like the trek from base camp, it was the groundwork for the assault on the mountain - New Zealand's first Test win at Lord's - that has begun in earnest.