Hailing from a country where cricketers are not placed on a different pedestal when compared to other sportsmen, a scrawny young man found himself having to get accustomed to the attention surrounding those of his ilk in India after flummoxing their star-studded batting lineup on a raging turner in front of a partisan crowd at Nagpur during the World T20 earlier this year.
A few days since that particular contest, we caught up with Mitchell Santner and asked him the inevitable question. On comparison with Daniel Vettori, he laughingly suggested, “I get that a lot. He’s obviously been a world class bowler from New Zealand for many years now. These are indeed big shoes to fill. We both might be left-arm spinners, but we are slightly different players. I have always admired him growing up, learnt a lot seeing him bowl – if I can bowl half as good as him, I’d be happy I think.”
Vettori himself might not be able to relate to Santner’s predicament (read challenge) as his career began in the aftermath of New Zealand yearning for a viable spin option to provide variety to their bowling unit. However, Vettori quickly made an impression by making use of a relatively dry surface in the 1997 Hamilton Test to push the scalpel into a Sri Lankan batting lineup comprising of spin-devouring staccatos like Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva.
A few months later, a summon for help was answered with the bat as his defiant 90 propelled the Kiwis from a perilous 259/7 to a placating 403 which eventually proved to be pivotal to staving off a spirited Zimbabwean team. Not looking back, Vettori began to build a reputation as a reliable cricketer who maximized his adequate potential as much as possible.
A rare commodity at Test level
Interestingly, Santner started his Test journey in a match which in all likelihood will be remembered in the years to come. While the lights shone brightly at Adelaide Oval for the pink-ball contest, he quietly went about his business and chipped in with handy contributions in both departments of the game. Aside from a resourceful 31 that was followed by a plucky 45, the southpaw bowled 18 overs and prised out a couple of wickets as well.
More recently, his palpable potential was highlighted on a turning track in Kanpur with five wickets across both innings complemented by a combined tally of more than 100 runs from the match. Despite being confronted by humid conditions and a team which seems imposing on their home soil, he managed to stand out with his all-round display amidst an onerous 197-run defeat.
A key facet of Santner which cannot be discerned from just looking at the numbers was his persistence as well as level-headed approach. Those attributes played an instrumental role in leading Vettori to the double of 4000 runs and 300 wickets which has been achieved by only two other cricketers ever – Ian Botham and Kapil Dev. Not possessing remarkable technical expertise with the bat nor gifted with prodigious turn, he relied extensively on relentlessness.
Following is the break-up of his statistics in both aspects of the game.
Capable of rearguard actions lower down the order, Vettori had the patience to grind out remorseless knocks as well. When conditions were not conducive for spin bowling, he smartly tied up one end with his accuracy. Admittedly, Santner will have to show immense dedication to step into the big boots of the veteran whose composed leadership skills also aided New Zealand to tide over a rather bleak period. However, the 24-year old has so far indicated that he has all the necessary ingredients to at least make a fight of it.
Soon after he knew that his final Test appearance had come by, Vettori decided to do away with announcing his retirement from the format so as not to take the limelight away from the tragic death of Phil Hughes. In his own words, “I suppose the current timing, what's happened in the last few days, it doesn't feel appropriate to make a big statement, so I thought that I'd just sit back and enjoy the Test win as much as I can.” This was a man who played the sport exactly the way it was meant to be played. In doing so, he has provided a template for Santner to look up to- both on and off the field.