Daniel Vettori exceeded his own expectations in his comeback from injury on Saturday and is set to take the field for Star University again this weekend.
The veteran Black Caps all-rounder turned out in Hamilton club cricket’s Hec Holland Plate one-day competition, in his first game back after a long stint on the sidelines.
The 34-year-old hadn't played since a short-lived return in June at the Champions Trophy in England, before further surgery on his troublesome left Achilles tendon, which, along with a hernia, had already ruled him out for six months.
It was understandable Vettori’s first steps back would be tentative, however, he showed no signs of discomfort at Steele Park, as he led The Bank Star University to a crushing eight-wicket win over Shenanigans Fraser-Tech.
Having lost the toss, Star were fielding first, and 19-year-old Freddy Walker faced the reality of captaining a superstar of world cricket.
Ironically also a left-arm spinner and having attended the same school as Vettori – St Paul’s Collegiate – Walker did bowl himself and four others before introducing the expert, saving Vettori for the end where the wind would help his drift.
Sending down plenty of arm balls on the artificial pitch, Vettori got tonked for six over midwicket by both Graeme Rorholt and Gurpreet Singh, though he dismissed Singh caught behind then had Matt Hay out to a dubious lbw decision, finishing with 2-26 from his 10 overs.
"When I talked to him midweek he said he'd bowl six to eight [overs]," Walker said.
"But he must've been feeling good, because he bowled straight through."
Walker had found out about Vettori’s availability eight days before the game and got in touch with him during the week, before meeting him for the first time on Saturday.
"He was pretty confident, just came up and shook everyone’s hand and said ‘Gidday I'm Dan' just like anyone else really, as if we didn't even know who he was. It was pretty surreal."
Eight years since his last club game, Vettori went about his work without fuss.
"He was pretty quiet out there, just observing I guess, and if he felt like he could input somewhere, he did, so that was good," Walker said, adding his side were unusually quiet in the field.
"Everyone just absorbed what he said, which was real good. I said to the boys ‘Look, this is a great opportunity for us to just learn, so just listen to him, take it in'."
Walker is looking forward to talking deeper with Vettori about both spin and captaincy, and may well get the chance in the coming days.
Vettori is set to play a part in trial matches for the Northern Knights in Mt Maunganui early this week, then may attend Star’s Thursday training ahead of Saturday’s fourth round match against Lonestar Hamilton Boys' High School. "He said he'd get hold of me during the week at some stage and let me know of his availability," Walker said.
"Obviously they want him back at full fitness, so we're hopeful to get him for a few more weeks, but we'll just take it as it comes I guess."
With Tech humbled for 149 in the 50th over, Vettori added an unbeaten 12 from No 4 in the run chase, which finished in just 23.2 overs thanks to a blazing century from punishing opener Rhys McCarthy, who cracked 107 not out off just 68 balls.
The Riv Marist-Suburbs were another side who collected a bonus point win, as they also won by eight wickets, against Gallagher Melville at Clyde Park.
Melville were rolled for just – in 43.3 overs, with Marist-Suburbs easing to victory in 21 overs.
The other match, at Steele Park, was a lot closer, as HBHS snuck home by seven runs against Ricoh Old Boys.
Batting at No 3, Scott Kuggeleijn belted 105 from 82 balls, though his team were bowled out in 46 overs for 225, with seamers Cole Hayman (4-48 off 10) and Jagwinder Singh (3-25 off four) the main destroyers.
A third-wicket partnership of 109 between Daryl Mitchell (69) and Jake Bezzant (40) had Old Boys in control, before a couple of Kuggeleijn strikes saw them lose 4-13.
Having edged closer to their target, Old Boys were finally put away in the 47th over.