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The Rediff Cricket Interview / Daniel Vettori
'I try and learn something from every spinner'
January 04, 2003
You wouldn't think so from the fact that he hasn't had to bowl a single over in two Tests and three one-dayers against India thus far, but Daniel Luca Vettori is a very important component of the New Zealand squad, in both versions of the game. His record is evidence enough -- in 44 matches, he has 139 Test wickets at 33.86, with seven five-fors and 10-plus wickets in an innings once, with a best of 7/87. In 97 one-dayers, he has 81 wickets at 39.37 and, significantly, an economy rate of under five (4.49).
The 1979-born Vettori -- 'Vett', to his mates -- became New Zealand's youngest Test cricketer when he debuted against England in 1997 at age 18, and seemed set for a sensational career when he raced to 100 wickets. As abruptly, however, he was forced out of the game with a chronic back problem caused, of all things, by his youth -- Vettori was a growing boy, and the fact that he was shooting up heightwise, and not adjusting his action as he gained height, put stress on his back.
Vettori tapered off at 6ft 3ins, stabilised his action, and came back an even more effective bowler. If New Zealand's finest hour was the 2000-2001 tour of Australia when the Black Caps fought the world champions to an absolute standstill, then the hero was Vettori, who, after a five-for at the Bellerieve Oval, turned in an astonishing, man of the match-winning performance at the WACA with 6/87 in the first innings: the Kiwis had put 534 on the board batting first and then handed the Aussies a scare, when Vettori spearheaded a bowling effort that saw the Aussies handed a fright, bowling them out for 357.
Earlier the same year, in the Eden Park Test against the Aussies, Vettori turned in figures of 5/62 and 7/87 -- again taking the man of the match award, though this time in a losing cause.
Indians in particular will remember him as a batsman -- in the Basin Reserve Test of the 1998-'99 series in New Zealand. India, after being bowled out for 208, had the Kiwis on 208/7 with all recognized batsmen back in the hut when Vettori (57) teamed up with Dion Nash in a 137-run eighth wicket partnership that batted the Indians out of the game.
'Vett' is an avowed Harbhajan Singh fan -- and curiously enough, when the Indian offie landed in New Zealand at the start of the ongoing tour of New Zealand, both he and Vettori had 139 wickets against their names.
The man, rated the best left arm spinner, spoke to Faisal Shariff at length, on his bowling, his inspirations, and the upcoming World Cup. Excerpts:
New Zealand isn't a country that is known for its spinners – so how was it, taking to this trade in the land that produced Sir Richard Hadlee?
It's been tough as you say, there haven't been lot of spinners around, for myself being young to head most Test wickets as a spinner, it's a bit of novelty. I was a little bit left to myself, and I suppose I enjoyed the chance.
Much of early development is about role models – so when you were starting out, who did you look up to for inspiration to bowl spin?
I think every New Zealander loved watching Richard Hadlee. Even I started out as a seamer but I felt that I was bowling at the same pace as I am now, which wasn't quick at all. So I just changed over and had some success right away, so I carried on from there. Also, I rose up the ranks reasonably quickly. I found it quite natural and felt good hard paying against some of the top guys, maybe if something had gone quite wrong, that is when I would have felt the need for someone to look up to and learn from.
How did you get started, any family influence? Did your father play cricket and has he encouraged you?
No, my father never played cricket. He is an accountant by profession. My older brother did, though, so I suppose I followed him into it. In New Zealand you play rugby, soccer and once in a while you play cricket in the summer and its sort of natural preparation. I had some ability, so it was an easy thing to fall into.
My father loves cricket. He has never played it but he just loves it. He has definitely encouraged me, always. Even though he didn't play cricket, he loves watching it and he came to watch all my brother's matches. Also, we played in the same team a lot of the time, so it made it easy for him to come down and watch us play.
How easy was it to make it through the ranks and make it to the national team?
I played for Northern Districts, in 1996, when I was 17 years. After that I played two first class games for New Zealand, one against England and the other against Central Districts. I was selected for the national team when I turned 18. Since, then it was New Zealand the whole time; I never had a chance to play for anyone else. It was a rapid rise from first class to Test level, in that sense.
Shane Warne rates your captain, Stephen Fleming, the best in the world today. How influential has he been in your development?
He thinks about the game a lot, he knows how to take the game in terms of trying to get people out, when the seam bowlers or I are bowling. He lets me do my own thing, set my own field, basically lets me go my way. He trusts my judgment and has always backs me all the way, which is nice to have in a captain. Generally, in world cricket, you find captains taking over and not really backing the spinners, but with Fleming it is the opposite.
Do you always get the field you want?
99 per cent of the time we are on the same wavelength, yes. Obviously, there will be the odd occasion when you disagree and the captain calls it his way, but that doesn't happen too often.
How do you rate your contemporary spinners?
Purely from a technical point of view, I enjoy watching Harbhajan Singh. I think he is fantastic to watch. Obviously, Saqlain (Mushtaq) and Murali (Muthaiah Muralitharan) are a little bit different and sort of hard to pick up things from; in that sense Harbhajan is the best guy around. Also, Shane Warne with his leg spin, he is one of the greatest of all time. But in terms of someone to look up to and learn from, I enjoy watching Harbhajan.
What is it about his bowling that you look to pick up?
Basically the way he spins the ball so hard... he tries to give it the hardest tweak he can; you can see the revolutions early on. From a spinner's point of view that is very good to watch. Also, there is the fact that he has pretty much worked on all his deliveries, and variations, become a force in both forms of the game.
Do you interact with him, exchange notes?
No, we never had the chance. I have talked to John Wright a few times and he has talked about Harbhajan, how hard he works, things like that which is good to hear. I enjoy watching him bowl; I think he is one of the best guys around at the moment.
John Wright gets him to identify the right spot, for a game or a particular opposition, and makes him hit that spot time and again in the nets. Before the last Aussie tour of India he had done that, and pretty much every series ever since. Do you use that kind of thing in your practice?
Yeah, you try and do target bowling as much as you can. If you stick to that, to the target length and line, then generally five of the six balls you bowl are going to be very good. Batsmen occasionally take charge and change things on you; but if you have the one spot where you can land at will and do variations off, then you are going to be able to bowl pretty well.
In one of your columns, a couple of months ago, you wrote that you rate Saqlain higher than Murali because of the dip he gets in the air…
I think because Muralitharan is so different, it's hard to sort of know, to learn something from the way he bowls; it's pretty hard to pick anything up. When Saqlain was playing here in New Zealand last year it was good to watch his variations, things like that; and, like I said, Harbhajan too is right up there in terms of variations. I think they are completely different bowlers. I think that the world acknowledges Murali is phenomenal; he has done amazing things. It is just that from a purely technical point of view it is hard to learn from him, to pick up things.
Do you see spin bowling as a cerebral art?
It's certainly a thinking man's game these days, especially when it comes to attacking batsmen at the Test level. These days, guys take guard and try to smash you as early as they can. So, for me, I think the mantra is to spin the ball as hard as you can and remain attacking the whole time.
You are very young, and already the most important spinner and one of the most important bowlers in your side – how do you cope with the expectations on you?
I suppose, having done this for five, six years now, I've gotten used to it. You come to enjoy the role, knowing that Stephen will throw the ball to you and expect you to do something; that's something I have come to enjoy. I have always had guys like Chris Cairns and Dion Nash to bowl with; that's been fantastic and now I've got Shane Bond, who's doing a great job for us. So it is not like the expectation is all on me, but it is nice to be thrown the ball and expected to do something with it.
You had a spate of injuries, how has that impacted on your career?
Not lately. No, there was a year, year-and-a-half when I was in and out of the side with a stress fracture. Basically, it hurt and I couldn't bowl with any kind of rhythm I would have liked; so that was bad. But this last year has been injury-free and I hope that continues -- I guess these injuries come from excessive cricket. Hopefully, I have put it behind me.
Heading into the World Cup, where you are one of the young turks people will be looking at, are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, I think we have a good team and I know we can compete. We definitely will make it through to the second round, and from there on I think it can be anyone's game. These nine teams in world cricket, they can beat each other on any day of the year; you never know where to put your money. I think it's going to a very tight tournament with at least one surprise.
You'll be bowling in South Africa where the tracks don't necessarily help spinners…
Yeah, you are right. Generally the wickets out there are no big help. But I think if you can turn the ball, mix your pace up, you should do well. Nicky Boje doesn't do too badly for South Africa, for instance, so I think there is some comfort for the spinners out there, knowing that they can be an option for captains.
For a side that has been one match away from the World Cup finals three times, the Kiwis have always carried the underdog tag, how come?
I think maybe because we are such a small country; probably the smallest country in world cricket with just 3.5 million people which makes people think its hard to put a good team together. Also, inconsistency has gone against us at times, where we have won one game then lost one. But lately we have been doing well; we did really well in Australia, then had a good series at home against England, we won the Test series against the West Indies. I think we are looking to put that tag behind us.
That series against Australia was an eye opener, it is not often a team takes on the world champions in their own backyard and makes them wilt. What was that all about?
I think probably a lot had to do with planning. We knew for a long time the tour was coming; Stephen had worked out a lot of their batsmen, thought about them a lot for two months before we actually went over. We'd done a lot of planning -- how we were going to bowl, what kind of deliveries would work, how we would get various players out. If you look at the fields Stephen set and the way we got them out, all that was planned in advance. I think the thing was planning, and then following through on that. That got our confidence going as well. To come out of a tour of Australia losing only one game out of seven was huge -- the people here loved it, they boast about it.
And then Australia beat you in Colombo…
That was huge disappointment. We thought we had our plans in place, but we bowled poorly to start with and that hampered us. Once the Aussies get off to a flier it is tough to hold them back in the middle -- they just got away from us there.
To get back to generalities, do you have a spin academy in New Zealand?
There is always an Academy team picked up every year; there are one or two spinners in there. But unfortunately I haven't had a lot to do with it, so I don't know too much about upcoming spinners. As you said earlier, we are not a country known for spinners, and it's kind of staying that way, though I must say there is this bloke who I think is a very good off spinner, there aren't too many others knocking on the door though. Actually, in a sense that was good for me, when I was injured no one stepped up and took my spot in the team, so I had an easy comeback.
How is the infrastructure for cricket in New Zealand?
I think its getting better and better all the time. The administration is realizing how important the grass roots level and first class level is and is trying to get better. They are trying to pay the players better at first class level so that they stay in the game longer, and the competition is mounting, players are getting younger. The thing is, the players 30-35 years old, they have been playing for 10, 15 years, the younger players need those guys to stay in the game, because they know so much, and can teach so much, pass on all that knowledge and experience. If that happens, then we start having a stronger first class competition and it in turn makes for a very strong team.
To get back to technology, Rahul Dravid told me how, a couple of seasons ago, Fleming told him how you guys used video technology to plan Gary Kirsten's dismissal. Has technology come to stay? Do you see teams that don't use tech getting left behind?
It's definitely here to stay. You can pick up so much, you can pick any batsman in the world, see how he gets out, what his scoring shots are, where he scores big, stuff like that. All that information is relevant; captains, coaches and bowlers are going to use that to plan things like how to keep a batsman quiet, how to put pressure, how to get him out. Oh yes, technology is here to stay; in fact even umpires I think will be using it more, even though it takes some of the human element out of it.
So since you guys have done so much study, how would you bowl to say Sachin Tendulkar?
I would rather be bowling to some other guy, actually. I have bowled to him quite a few times, you kind of get a feel for how to bowl to him. Like, Bishen Singh Bedi once told me how you could always get Sachin out caught and bowled -- I want to keep that in mind next time I bowl to him. The guy has played on the world stage, coming across him is always a challenge -- but at the same time, if you get a wicket it is the best wicket you could get.
If you had to pick a moment from his knocks to talk about, which would it be?
I've seen a lot of him, but what I remember most is a shot he played at the Basin Reserve, in 1998, in the second innings. He was on 94 and I was bowling to him over the wicket, into the rough. Long on and long off were back -- and he went down the track and hit straight back behind me for a massive six to get to his 100. That is one of the best shots that I have seen, and only he could have played it.
Interesting that Bishen Bedi gave you that advice about Sachin; have other spinners helped you with advice?
Oh, yeah, when I get a chance I do speak to Shane Warne; he has been more than helpful, with information. There is a little sort of spinners' club out there and everyone sort of sticks together and helps out as much as they can. It's nice to have that kind of friendship with spinners around the world.
Who has had the maximum influence on you? Who have you learnt the most from?
That's a tough one. Early on I guess it was John Boswell, who is coach of our youth team. He helped me a lot. Actually, for me, it is looking at every spinner around the world and trying to copy, learn from, something they do. It's not about any one guy in particular. Actually, I never saw Bishen, I was too young and there isn't too much footage of him. So that kind of means you don't have too many quality left arm spinners to learn from, there aren't that many around today, so I just try and pick up something from every spinner.