David Leggat: The captain's chance to stamp his mark

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It has been a busy few weeks of welcomes and farewells round the New Zealand cricket team.

A new coach, rejigged selection panel, support staff ditched, others hired but overall presenting a slimmed-down look.

So where does all this upheaval leave captain Daniel Vettori?

It could be this is the ideal time for Vettori to step forward and take a stronger hand on what goes on within the dressing room, as well as running the show on the park.

Since Glenn Turner coached New Zealand to perhaps their finest of all series victories - 2-1 over Australia, in Australia in 1985-86 - national teams have been through a host of coaching changes.

New Zealand have had 12 coaches in 23 years, including John F. Reid and Ashley Ross doing short term fill-in jobs in 1985 and 2003 respectively. The latest, Englishman Andy Moles, moved into the job a couple of weeks ago.

After Turner came Gren Alabaster, Bob Cunis, Warren Lees, Geoff Howarth, Reid, Turner again, Steve Rixon, David Trist, Dennis Aberhart, Ross and John Bracewell. Most were men with distinctive personalities, and had their own way of doing things.

Some were hands-on, dominant figures, Rixon and Bracewell springing to mind. Others, like Alabaster, Cunis and Aberhart preferred the players to be front of house.

Moles sits in the latter group, from the perspective that he has frequently said the players should be, in his words, "on the back page", not the coach.

His philosophy is that he will have plenty to say in the leadup to tests but once the first morning arrives, the captain should be the voice the players hear most often.

If Vettori casts his mind back to the latter part of the Trist reign and through the Aberhart years early in this decade, he'll recall Stephen Fleming demanding a greater say in operations. By that stage he felt confident in his abilities, both as the team's leading batsman but also as a captain growing into the job and backing his judgments.

During this period, New Zealand went to Australia and drew all three tests - and might have won two - against a formidable Australian side, then recorded their first win in the West Indies. It was a time of considerable success when New Zealand's reputation was of a side difficult to beat.

Players like Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns, Adam Parore, Dion Nash, Vettori, Mark Richardson and Craig McMillan formed a tough-minded unit, and their captain was emphatically calling the shots.

This is Vettori's time. He is in his prime at 29 and has a coach happy for him to take greater responsibility, and already Vettori is showing signs that he's up for the challenge.

Take the recent tour to Bangladesh. In the first test, New Zealand put up a wretched first innings batting display, dismissed for 171 - trailing Bangladesh by 74 on the first innings - of which Vettori's 55 not out was the only score to pass 25.

Left 317 to win, Vettori bumped himself up to No 4 in the order. This was put down to filling a nightwatchman job late on the fourth afternoon.

Most likely a large part of his thinking also stemmed from a desire to show the specialists how the job should be done.

He grafted over four and a half hours for 76 which ensured New Zealand would not suffer a humiliating defeat and completed their second highest successful fourth innings run chase.

Then at Adelaide in the second test loss at the start of this month, Vettori churned through almost 60 overs in Australia's only innings, conceding two runs an over in a herculean effort to keep New Zealand in the match.

His influence on this New Zealand team is growing. His job is doubly difficult in that bowlers rarely make top captains. New Zealand have had 26 test captains. There have been several who bowled a reasonable amount in their allround capacity - John R. Reid being a prime case in point - but only Harry Cave in the mid-1950s and Nash - who did three tests against South Africa in 1998-99 when Fleming was injured - would be called frontline bowling captains.

Former Australian captain Ian Chappell is firmly of the view that the coach is the thing players sit in to get to the ground.

That's a radical view of the role. Equally, there's no question the coach should be a background figure rather than the frontman, and more so when the skipper is an experienced, confident player.

There was another sign of Vettori's growing strength of mind when he made it plain on Wednesday that he thought senior fast-medium bowler Chris Martin should be bowling at the West Indies this week. Martin has been omitted in favour of Mark Gillespie. Vettori, reading between the words, didn't think there was much wrong with Martin's performance in the two tests in Australia last month, during which he took six wickets.

Keeping mum is not for Vettori. He is an intelligent man and that decisiveness is a good sign in a captain. He knows what he wants.

This week's test is Vettori's 15th as captain, to go with 35 ODIs in charge.

History will judge how successful a captain he is. But it is in his hands to determine how his leadership is remembered.

- NZ Herald

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