Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Vettori's return a gamble

Celebrated spinner on verge of joining NZ for final England test, but will he fire or fail?

Sport's history is littered with dramatic comebacks from hiatuses.

Daniel Vettori might only be graduating into that camp - he retired and resurrected himself to play one-day international cricket in the Champions Trophy, not tests - but any return to Headingley on Friday will still be welcome.

The 34-year-old wasn't part of the original tour squad but that was more on the basis of injury recovery than form after Achilles tendon and groin woes. He last played for New Zealand in July last year in the West Indies. If he passes muster this week in Leeds he would be a deserved recipient of a 112th test cap for New Zealand. Vettori also has one cap for the World XI in 2005. Selection would take him past Stephen Fleming for actual New Zealand appearances.

The concern is he will not be match fit after spending the past few weeks as a net bowler with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.

There are winners and losers when it comes to making late returns to the international sporting landscape.

Colin Cowdrey answered the call of the England national selectors in the 1974-75 Ashes when England were bombarded by Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Cowdrey arrived in Perth for a record sixth tour of Australia after a 19-hour delay in Bombay. He had precisely three hours in the nets and no practice match. Parallels to Vettori, anyone?

Cowdrey had been grazing in a good paddock since his last appearance and upon arrival at the wicket his greeting to Thomson of "how good to meet you" was allegedly rebuffed with "that's not going to help you fatso, piss off." Eleven days shy of 42, Cowdrey went on to make 22 and 41, but England lost the six-test series 4-1.

Retired All Black captain Brian Lochore answered an SOS to play the Lions at Wellington in 1971 as a lock. He wrote the legendary "Gone to Wellington. Playing test tomorrow" for wife Pam ... but that's where the glory ended. New Zealand were beaten in the third test and went on to lose the series 2-1.

Allan Langer came back to help Queensland to State of Origin success in 2001. He exited again after rolling the dice and coming up with a yahtzee when the Maroons triumphed 40-14. Langer set up three first half tries to change the dynamic of the game.

Vettori will largely play against the odds of success but his one previous appearance at Headingley gleaned two for 83 and 35 runs. The best performance by an NZ spin bowler at Leeds came from another 34-year-old left-arm spinner in 1949. Tom Burtt took five for 97, including the wicket of Denis Compton for 114.

Vettori offers balance to the side if he can find batting form. He could also reinforce players' belief in themselves as an icon of the New Zealand game. Still, that status comes with responsibility. He, too, needs to perform - and turn the ball - to justify his place.

- NZ Herald

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