Rajan's Wrong 'Un: Vettori bucks trend by playing a long game to extend career
Amol Rajan is Editor of Independent Voices, a comment, campaigns and community platform across print and digital. He was earlier Deputy Comment Editor, Sports News Correspondent and news reporter. He writes a restaurant column for the Independent on Sunday, and has a column in the Evening Standard (Mondays), Independent and i (Fridays). He used to work on Channel 5's The Wright Stuff, and at the Foreign Office; and is a trustee of Prospex, a charity for young people in Islington. He also wrote a book called Twirlymen: the Unlikely History of Cricket's Greatest Spin Bowlers.
Monday 27 June 2011
On a crowded wall of the family home in which Renzo and Robyn Vettori raised their children, there is a newspaper front page from February 1997 announcing the selection for a Test against England of their son, with the screaming headline "But he's only 18!" A few of New Zealand's smarter hacks may have felt inclined to reprise that headline when Daniel Vettori last week announced that, for now, at least, he is quitting Twenty20 and one-day cricket: "But he's only 32!" I prefer to look at it another way. Vettori's decision to forgo the lucre and glitz of the shorter forms of the game is a rare and huge victory for left-arm spin, for Test cricket and for the reputation of the greatest cricketer New Zealand has ever produced.
It is all the more welcome for going against the prevailing orthodoxy. England fans know too well that many top players (Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff) stop playing Tests to preserve their bodies for limited-overs cricket, and so avoid the wrath of their bank managers and wives. Not for dear Daniel. "I want to play Tests as long as I can," he says. "That's the part of the game I've always loved." Fans everywhere should treasure such a brazen commitment to the higher virtues of the game, and reflect with a smile that it comes from such an extraordinary servant of the game.
India and Sachin Tendulkar aside, no other country can boast that their greatest player is currently on show. Vettori is the first Kiwi to 300 Test wickets and 3,000 runs. His 345 wickets – only John Bracewell among other Kiwi spinners passed 100 – means it is highly conceivable that he will pass Sir Richard Hadlee's 431; and he will shortly pass Stephen Fleming's record 111 caps. There are doubtless those who think it heresy to claim Vettori a greater contributor to the game than the distinguished Hadlee; but, considering pitch conditions and the demands placed upon modern cricketers – particularly the packed international schedule – the grounds for doing so are several.
Vettori started out as a prodigious spinner of the ball, with a huge pivot in his action. But then, at 23, he was struck down by appalling stress fractures of the back (much like his fabulously talented compatriot, Shane Bond). Disappointed but not defeated, Vettori completely remodelled his action, opening it up, sacrificing spin, and becoming the finest left-arm exponent of modulating flight since Bishen Bedi – and the finest left-arm spinner since Deadly Underwood. No wonder he says: "I've always seen subtle variation as being the key to my success, using flight and pace rather than turn". This heroic adaptation, in response to crippling injury, renders him the Kiwis' greatest.
All of which is a long way from the gangly, bespectacled teenager plucked from obscurity to play against England in Wellington all those years ago. Father Renzo, who hailed from the village of Roncone in the Dolomites, nearly crashed his car when he heard on the radio of the call-up. Last week's announcement secures his son's status not just as an elder statesman of the game, but a true champion of Test values at a time when they are under assault.
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