There are two types of human beings - one that wants to leave an indelible mark on the world and want to be remembered through their legacy. The other kind treads lightly without the compulsive need to dominate and make their presence felt.
You are not likely to remember them as much as the first type, but it doesn’t mean they don’t leave their mark. They do, and often more than the first type. However, most of the time, they are also aware that by trying hard to leave their signature on the ground, they are more likely to scar it.
Daniel Vettori’s bespectacled brilliance is of the second kind - gentle, aware, and understated but prodigiously effective!
Born to Robyn and Renzo Vettori in Auckland and brought up in Hamilton, Dan Vettori inherited the sporting gene from both his parents, whose families had Rugby league legends, All black (NZ’s Rugby team) players, Olympic swimmers, and first-class cricketers to boast of.
Competitive from his childhood, Vettori played as a medium pacer for his school side but soon realized that he was much better as a left-arm spinner. So at 15, he changed his skillset, and so good was he at the new skill that within 3 years of bowling slow left arm (SLA) spin, he was making his test debut for the Kiwis against England in 1997.
The spectacled teenager with a mop of long hair bowled with guile, bounce, and subtle turn that was enough to flummox Naseer Hussain. The papers had only one thing to say in bold black letters - “BUT HE’S ONLY 18!”
New Zealand doesn’t produce spinners, just like they don’t produce raging turners. Vettori was an anomaly right from the start. He was tall, in fact, way too tall for a SLA, wore spectacles, had long hair for the majority of his career, bowled spin on pitches that mostly can’t be distinguished from the outfield, and came from a country that has almost five times more sheep than humans.
His action was high arm, he took a significant jump before he delivered the ball, and didn’t turn the ball much. But his guile in the air, dip on the ball, and subtle variations were good enough to get him 362 test wickets at an average of 34.37. Along with Ross Taylor, he is the most capped Test player for NZ (112 test matches). He is just behind all-time great bowler Richard Hadlee on the list of highest wicket-takers for New Zealand. If Hadlee was their best bowler, Vettori was NZ’s best-ever spinner.
He took some time, to figure out his batting in the test format, but once he sorted his training and understood the mindset of a batter with the help of another tall left-handed kiwi, Stephen Fleming, he struck his first century against Pakistan in 2003. He ended his career with 4531 runs @ 30.0 and is one of the only three humans on this planet to have a double of 4000 test runs and 300 wickets alongside Ian Botham and Kapil Dev. He also has the most runs at number 8 in the history of test cricket.
In ODIs, he is the most capped Kiwi player (295 matches) and has taken 305 wickets at an average of 31.71. When he retired at 36 after the 2015 WC, he had 36 wickets in 32 World Cup games, with 15 of those coming in the 2015 edition. He exited the World Cup final with a defeat, a broken back, and an injured calf, but was one of the five Kiwis to be part of ICC’s Team of the tournament.
More than these numbers and accolades, what defined Vettori as a cricketer was his insistence on maintaining the spirit of faith play on the ground, which is known as the hallmark of New Zealand cricket worldwide. He was NZ’s captain in 2009 & 2010 when they won the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award. He was an individual recipient of the same in 2012.
A career that began at 18 ended at 36. By then, Vettori had spent more than half his life on this planet playing cricket at its highest level. The number of coaching assignments he gets nowadays is a testament to his pedigree as a cricketer. But you look at him even today, and you won’t be able to see one of NZ’s best-ever cricketers and ambassadors.
You’ll see an understated man who treads lightly and doesn’t feels the compulsion to make his presence felt. That’s why when a reporter asked him about his retirement after he returned from the 2015 WC campaign, “Is this it, is this the official announcement?” he just replied “Ah yes, I suppose it is”, and walked away not only from the reporter but from the sport that he had given all his adult life to.
The understated brilliance of Daniel Vettori graced the earth for the first time on this day, 44 years ago.
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