Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, is in a race against time to be fit and ready for next week's first Test against England at Lord's. Vettori gashed the spinning finger of his left hand on Saturday while fielding in the Black Caps' warm-up game against Essex and the two stitches he had in the cut will prevent him from taking any further part in this match, or from playing in their final warm-up game against the England Lions starting on Thursday at Southampton.
The injury is a significant blow for Vettori and New Zealand, who need all their top players to be fit and in form if they are to compete with Michael Vaughan's side in the three-Test series. Though inexperienced, Vettori has already shown himself to be a fine captain. He is a magnificent cricketer too; capable of winning games with his crafty left-arm spin and scoring valuable runs batting at No 8.
Vettori's preparations will now revolve around gentle net sessions over the weekend at the Rose Bowl, followed by more vigorous spells of bowling in a week's time at Lord's. The all-rounder played in the Indian Premier League before arriving in England, cricket that will reduce the impact of a week of inactivity, but he will now enter the first Test with apprehension rather than confidence.
"I'm going to be caught short now," admitted Vettori, whilst watching New Zealand's fragile batting line-up fail to impress. "But hopefully because I've played cricket for a long time I'll be able to call on that experience and be ready for the first Test, maybe not physically but by being able to put the injury behind me and get on with it.
"Gripping the ball is going to be the problem, getting used to it again and trying not to open it [the wound] up," he added. "So we're going to give it as much of a break we can before the first Test and hopefully it's ready for then."
New Zealand's batting was in need of Vettori's qualities yesterday as it perished for 195 against a modest Essex bowling attack. The second-innings total left the hosts requiring 293 for victory and at the close England's Alastair Cook remained unbeaten on 21 as Essex reached 45 for 1.
Faces change in the New Zealand team and players switch positions but the alterations seem to make very little difference. The batting order expected to take on England in 10 days' time will contain at least three new names but it is the ability of the Black Caps lower order to accumulate runs when they are needed most, not the skill of the top order to seize hold of a game, that continues to impress. The New Zealand selectors could save themselves a deal of heartache by retaining the same side and simply turning the batting order upside down.
The conundrum is the tourist's greatest weakness and strength. When Jacob Oram weakly chipped Ravi Bopara to mid-on to reduce the tourists to 92 for 6, it looked like Essex would be chasing a small total, but an unbeaten half-century from Kyle Mills, along with useful contributions from Aaron Redmond, Michael Mason and Iain O'Brien more than doubled the score.
Bopara, who has been in superb batting form, bowled an excellent 11-over spell here, showing that he is a ready-made replacement for Paul Collingwood.