Andrew Alderson

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

Cricket: Vettori on track to bowing out of test job

First class play chances fading as NZ talk successor to man who could spin

Just as cricket fans waited keenly for Daniel Vettori to earn a record 112th cap for New Zealand, his failure to be ready for the Headingley test raises questions whether his days donning white are over.

He last played a test in July against the West Indies before Achilles tendon and groin problems ruled him out of contention for subsequent series against India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and England. His next opportunity will be away to Bangladesh in October. A 34-year-old with three children might think twice.

Vettori will play the Champions Trophy but the prospect of sustained first-class play, unless he took up an English county contract, appear limited.

New Zealand coach and chief selector Mike Hesson has to start looking at future spin options.

Captain Brendon McCullum indicated - as diplomatically as he could about a trusted friend - an exit strategy needs consideration.

"It's probably something we need to discuss further down the track. It's a rolling decision about what Dan needs to prioritise and how many overs he's got left. It'd be nice to think he can play every game in all three forms but that's not realistic.

So we need to continue those conversations. I certainly see a place for him in the team. It'd be silly to sweep away that experience; those runs and wickets. He jumped on a plane straight away to be here, so he was keen.

"He's brought a lot more facial hair, that's for sure," McCullum quipped about Vettori's latest effort which channels WG Grace. "Having one of the country's cricketing legends around the group helps rather than hinders. The concern was the workload he might have carried. We couldn't be certain some of his troubled areas wouldn't flare up and how it would impact on the coming weeks [for the Champions Trophy]."

McCullum doesn't want to add to Kane Williamson's burgeoning list of responsibilities either, as the vice-captain batting at No 3.

"He's a viable spin option but it's unfair to expect him to bank 20-25 overs. However, he has taken wickets at key moments, is growing in stature within the team and his bowling is a symbol of that."

The wider problem lies in succession planning rather than Vettori's departure through natural attrition. Left-armers Trent Boult and Neil Wagner could be with the team for several seasons so an off spinner would be preferable to attack the stumps from their footmarks against right-hand batsmen. That's a touch "Dear Santa" but no one on the domestic scene appears to the manor born.

Bruce Martin could be worthy of perseverance when his calf injury repairs but, at 33-years-old and with 10 wickets at 47.10 in four tests, he might need a PR firm to pitch a convincing case.

Jeetan Patel has been playing solidly with Warwickshire where he took five for 56 against Yorkshire last week at Edgbaston. He has the experience of 19 tests dating back to 2006 but is also 33 and struggled in his last test series in South Africa where his aggregate was one for 194.

Leg-spinner Todd Astle took one for 97 on debut in the victory at Colombo but has fallen from favour. The 26-year-old finished the Plunket Shield with 13 wickets at 56 for Canterbury. Fellow leg spinner Tarun Nethula suffered the yips touring India before he could earn a test cap, but the 30-year-old fought back with 22 wickets at 36.95 for Central Districts last season.

The best hope appears to be former national under-19 leg-spinner Ish Sodhi. He moved from Auckland to Northern Districts last summer and played all 10 first-class matches, collecting 20 wickets at 44.80. Backing the 20-year-old could pay off long term, but there's still a vacuum to Vettori.

- NZ Herald

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