Eagerly-awaited test return for Daniel Vettori
It wasn’t quite Santa on Christmas Day, but not too far off. Complete with long beard and spectacles, Daniel Vettori brought some much-needed cricketing cheer to the New Zealand team at Headingley.
Much like a sighting of Santa, at first it was eye-rubbing stuff. Less than 24 hours after touching down at Heathrow, Vettori loped around the outfield taking high catches, grinning and exchanging banter with his young team-mates two days out from a test match. Could it be real or was it a mirage?
The former skipper and 112-test veteran hadn’t played a test since July, 10 months ago. In the interim there were five T20 internationals and a painful six-month recovery from an Achilles tendon injury.
Since the end of September, his competitive bowling amounted to 16 overs for Northern Districts across two one-day matches in March. His last six weeks were spent waiting for an IPL game with Bangalore and bowling the house down in the nets.
It was like he’d never been away. Cricket training sessions might be gripping viewing for coaches but are generally watched only by the lost, lonely or bored. Mercifully, this one carried almost as much intrigue as day one of the test 48 hours later.
Vettori didn’t push himself on a chilly morning with dark clouds circling. At 34 he knows what to do. He stood around, wandered into the three practice nets on the Headingley outfield then began rolling the left arm at gentle pace like he was bowling in the back yard.
Match umpires Steve Davis and Marais Erasmus turned up, exchanged handshakes with Vettori and watched from close range as he warmed to his task.
He turned a couple past Martin Guptill’s bat, including one gem which would have troubled anyone. After 30 minutes and about 8-10 overs, Vettori was happy and wandered off to pad up.
Clutching the willow, he didn’t wander straight into the fast bowlers’ net where cheeky youngsters were nipping it around on the spicy surface.
Throw downs with the master of the art, assistant coach Bob Carter, got him started then Kane Williamson joined in to lob a few grenades
A few more hit out of the middle in the next door net and Vettori was done. Requests for a quick word with Vettori were again declined by the media manager, apparently on the orders of coach Mike Hesson who watched his returning spinner intently throughout.
It looked like the training session of a man who was ready to play a test. It wasn’t at breakneck intensity, yet he covered all the bases and looked comfortable doing it.
The next big question was how he felt after a night’s sleep, bearing in mind his body needs to last five days.
The final word seemingly lies with Vettori, who will play if he feels ready.
It might seem a punt but it’s worth taking at 1-0 down with one to play. With the ball likely to swing and the New Zealand pacemen firing, Vettori won’t be required to carry the bowling attack and his workload won’t be obscene.
His experience is invaluable, with fragile souls needing to be mended after the Lord’s defeat. And at No 8 he adds some much-needed steel to the lower order which, with all due respect, Tim Southee doesn’t.
Aside from his debut, against England 16 years ago, this could be one of Vettori’s most eagerly-awaited tests.