Playing on the dusty, surly and spin-friendly surfaces of India is a tough challenge any team could face, but doing it without your frontline spinner increases that challenge significantly. In a few days’ time New Zealand will confront the same situation when they take on India in the first of two Test matches without the services of their former captain and highest wicket-taker, Daniel Vettori.
What Vettori has done for New Zealand, no other player has managed to do for them – donning the Black Cap the most number of times in Tests (112), and picking up the most number of dismissals (360). The 33-year-old has remained the lynchpin of the New Zealand bowling attack over the years. His left-arm spin, together with his guile and craftiness, has brought him success against every opposition. And not to forget his dogged batting, which has remained a thorn in the opposition’s flesh for quite some time now.
And although his bowling record - both home and away - against India hasn’t been that great, he would have been Ross Taylor’s first pick on the flight to India, especially after the drubbing they have received recently at the hands of West Indies.
One would expect Vettori to be amongst the wickets most of the times on spin-friendly Indian tracks, but like some other great spinners who have had torrid time in dealing with the slow nature of the surfaces here, Vettori hasn't been up to the mark whenever he has travelled to India.
Although 31 of his 40 wickets against India have come here, he had to shell out over 44 runs for each of those wickets, which is well above his overall average of 34.42. And not even the two five-wicket hauls that he has against India came cheaply. His 6 for 127 came in the Kanpur Test in 1999-2000 after he toiled hard for 55 overs, while he bowled 50 overs for his 5 for 135 in Hyderabad when New Zealand toured India the last time in 2010-11.
But Vettori’s overall experience and the knowledge he has gained playing in the IPL over the years could have come in handy in changing the fortune of New Zealand who have won just two matches (Nagpur in 1969 and Mumbai in 1988) of the 29 they have played in India so far. They lost 11 of them while 16 ended in draws.
Regardless of the success Jeetan Patel - the offspinner selected in place of Vettori for this tour - has got recently, he will find it extremely tough to fill the big shoes of Vettori. He and Tarun Nethula, the 29-year-old Indian-born legspinner, will have their task cut out against batsmen who are born and bred tackling such spinners.
And although Kane Williamson, their middle-order batsman, can also provide a part-time option to Taylor with his offspin, it won't be a surprise if the Kiwis rely more on their pacers, which is supposedly their strength, rather than trying out more spinners.
This tour may turn out to be make-or-break for Taylor, who has been under the pump ever since he took over the captaincy from Vettori. A good performance here could well turn his fortune, while a bad show may end his reign as skipper.