National Selection Manager Kim Littlejohn on the return of Daniel Vettori
In a month when Kevin Pietersen announced his retirement from all limited overs international cricket, Daniel Vettori’s decision to come out of retirement and make himself available for New Zealand selection for the World Cup T20 tournament in Sri Lanka, whilst showing his worth to his side, illustrates the difference in riches between cricket’s glitterati and the second tier nations.
On Wednesday New Zealand Cricket (NZC) announced its top 20 contracted players for the upcoming year. Whilst discussion would usually centre on surprise inclusions and omissions, talk of the merits of including Andy Ellis whilst excluding Mark Gillespie after his late season heroics against South Africa was pushed into the background. As he has for much of his career, which began in 1996/7 as an 18 year old kid who looked like Harry Potter’s stunt double, Daniel Vettori again took centre stage. More than two years after he played his last T20 international, New Zealand’s most successful spinner announced he was making himself available for the World Cup in September – there wasn’t a New Zealander supporter who didn’t rejoice.
When he announced his retirement from T20 internationals in 2010 Vettori hadn’t played at the highest level for nearly six months; a few months later he pulled the pin on ODIs as well after New Zealand again bowed out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage. It meant he would not only no longer be playing international limited overs cricket but that he would relinquish the captaincy he had coveted for so long. His decision centred on freeing him to play test cricket for as long as he could - "Tests are a big part of why I play the game, for the team and myself, because there is no better feeling than winning a Test."
At the time Vettori had played just 28 T20Is but during that time he had briefly held the number one ICC T20 ranking in 2009. Vettori had an economy rate of 5.36 and a bowling average below 17 – he was one of the rare breed of Kiwi bowlers who truly excelled at the highest levels of our great game. For the best part of 15 years he was the mainstay of the New Zealand attack, often forced to plug an end at test level while the New Zealand seamers haemorrhaged runs like the world’s first unsinkable ship took on water – over time that takes a toll on any man, no matter his love for the black cap with the distinctive silver fern.
Vettori has been anything but idle in retirement – it certainly hasn’t been time with a cup of tea in a rocking chair between test matches. Since stepping out of the international game’s coloured clothing he has added to a healthy retirement fund with stints in Australia’s Big Bash League intertwined with New Zealand’s domestic HRV Cup, and an annual Indian pilgrimage with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. In 95 T20 matches Vettori goes for a shade over six runs per over with his 100 wickets costing a meagre 22 runs apiece – his value to his country will be significant. New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White summed up the thoughts of Kiwi fans - "his availability is a real boost for the Black Caps with his style of bowling well suited to conditions in Sri Lanka".
What does Vettori’s inclusion mean for the New Zealand side? Will his about face impact on the opportunities for Ronnie Hira and Nathan McCullum – New Zealand’s T20 incumbent spinners?
New Zealand is undoubtedly a better side with Vettori in it – he offers more at limited overs level than most of the other options combined. Miserly bowling figures aside, Vettori brings stability to the side that seems to continue to be missing with Taylor and McCullum at the helm. Whilst he won’t captain the side Vettori offers well-versed cricketing insight and a level of leadership that has been sorely missed in his absence. With Vettori in the line-up New Zealand’s chances are always increased – we are overdue for more ICC silverware.
Ronnie Hira, who made substantial strides forward in the last international season, is likely to be the most significant casualty of Vettori’s return. Kim Littlejohn and the new coaching staff are unlikely to include two left arm spinners in their starting line-up, even on the subcontinent, so Nathan McCullum seems set to fill the second spinners’ role with help from Rob Nicol and Kane Williamson on the slow Sri Lankan surfaces. While his potential exclusion may be a little harsh on Hira, Vettori is without rival in the New Zealand set-up – Hira’s time will come again.
New Zealand Cricket’s decision is in stark contrast to the way their English counterparts dealt with Kevin Pietersen, though a little context needs to be applied – whilst the ECB is overflowing with player riches, New Zealand struggles to field eleven players of true international quality, let alone a full squad. To compare the two situations is folly; it’s akin to comparing the rugby resources of the All Blacks and Scotland. I’ve spoken of the merits, or otherwise, of the ECB decision previously but the Vettori decision has very little downside for anyone but Hira.
The ex-skipper gets the opportunity to play a one-off tournament through tenure and service – Vettori is unrivalled in either within NZC – he has grown up in a black shirt. When coupled with limited international quality cricketers in our little corner of the world it's a good move. As a small country rooted in the second tier of international nations, New Zealand doesn’t have the luxury of the likes of the ECB to stick so rigidly to rules – the players coerced him, John Wright wanted him and David White signed off on it – it’s a great move.
Will NZC’s decision to allow Vettori back into the T20 side on his terms set a precedent? Only time will tell but it’s doubtful it will set a new line in the sand for players to try and step over. Most have too much respect for Vettori to use his decision as a bargaining tool – he is our most accomplished modern cricketer, largely without peer during his time. His addition, however short-lived, to any New Zealand side should be seen as a blessing – now if only we could persuade Lawrence Booth to name him as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year…
Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi. If you enjoyed it, sign up for email alerts for future pieces from a cricketing Buddha. New Zealand is due to head off to Florida tomorrow to start their tour of the West Indies with two T20Is in the United States – I’ll pen a few pieces with a Caribbean flavour while they’re away.