Sunday, 13 September 2015

England vs Switzerland

England 2 - 0 Switzerland  (8.9.2015)

In the past I have often remarked that crowds at England matches were made up entirely of either racists or plastic fans. Thankfully, along with the overwhelming majority of fans at Wembley on Tuesday night, I fitted squarely in the latter category.

Even for competitive fixtures such as this Euro 2016 qualifier, there is no denying that the atmosphere and collective feeling around the ground is one of showpiece football; a glamorous event of honorary attendance in the same pantheon as a Harlem Globetrotters tour.

Come, one and all, see the stars of television and the posters adorning your childhood bedroom wall ‘in the flesh’: Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart... Jonjo Shelvey! Catch a glimpse (preferably through the lens of an iphone) before they return to sporting Hollywoodland.

As soon as England’s captain notched his record breaking goal tally from the penalty spot, wide-eyed and chino-clad spectators ascended the stairways towards the exits, their faces glued to mobile screens as the game concluded behind them. In their wake lay cardboard containers once filled with burgers and hotdogs valued at the same price as a year’s education for a Zambian child.
Welcome to England, and its sparkling citadel of wealth and ambition, a Minas Tirith of misguided migration. London.

 As visiting Swiss and English feet marched their way across Wembley Way before kick-off, an American preacher, dangerously armed with a megaphone, reprimanded us foolish footy enthusiast for our ignorance of spiritual affairs. “Your sports stars cannot save you,” he called into the infidel masses, “only the King of Kings can rescue you from damnation”. ‘DO YOU KNOW GOD?’ screamed his strewn leaflets.

If anyone had actually been paying attention to this sadly deluded miscreant, they might have been forgive for assuming he was talking about Rooney. All media discussion before the match was on the Liverpool lad’s imminent surpassing of Bobby Charlton as England’s highest goalscorer.

Never having been a particularly popular player among supporters at a domestic level - even at his beloved Old Trafford home he has reluctantly tolerated recent detractors – for the national side he carries all dependant hope of success. Scandals have come and gone, yet even with a history of disappointment on the biggest stage, he endures as the highest rated of our soccer population.

As the game unfolded, the media showed no signs of changing their top billing. Not a single press photographer positioned themselves behind where the Swiss were attacking. Each scope was trained on the number nine’s every move, waiting for the inevitable moment of glory to arrive.

Although Harry Kane’s breaking of the deadlock was warmly welcomed, it remained nothing but a subplot compared to the clamour of excitement sparked by the skipper’s late chance from twelve yards.

Despite the lessons of contemporary history, England now appear a formidable team, at least against moderate opposition. Aside from some wasted chances to open the scoresheet by Josip Drmic, the visitors offered little resistance. The three lions played precise, pressing and patient tactics that ultimately paid off with an eighth consecutive victory.

The squad’s detractors, nevertheless, will continue to be displeased by an unspectacular performance without ‘entertainment’ across the full ninety minutes.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Farah from the madding crowd

By continuing to employ the under-investigation athletics coach Alberto Salazar, Mo Farah has opened himself to obvious accusations. The Olympic champion's loyalty to the American, currently being accused by the BBC and 19 other witnesses of doping successive professional sportsmen under his guidance, can only be explained by the blind naivety of a loyal colleague or, more worryingly, that Farah himself is benefiting from performance enhancing drugs.

Although the thirty-two year old declared this week that he would dispense with Salazar's services if any of the allegations were proved true, it is hard to see how much more evidence the popular distance runner needs shoved under his nose to be persuaded of guilt. Whatever happens from this point onwards, the Briton has already damaged his reputation by not severing ties with his coach as soon as the drugs claims became public.

It is no surprise, following equivocal rhetoric and carefully-worded denials, that suspicions surrounding Farah's remarkable improvement in results since joining with Salazar in 2011 continue to grow. The press pack trusts its nose above all else when it smells smoke and Farah suddenly pongs of a smouldering inferno.

2012's national hero vehemently denies having ever taken drugs, yet other elements of his most recent interview with the press mirror the responses of Lance Armstrong in his pomp. Deserving the "benefit of the doubt" is not a valid defence in the face of criminal accusations and nor is saying "I have taken 103 tests since the 2012 summer Olympics. And every one of them has been negative. So I can't win."

Sensible anti-doping agencies still recognise that banned substances such as EPO cannot be detected by random sampling. Therefore Mo's claim is false and misleading, meant to merely serve devoted fans already searching for ways to excuse the athlete, rather than anyone with the slightest knowledge of doping culture. Everyone within sport knows how easy it is to avoid strict testing nevermind the more blatant methods he used to somehow avoid two appointments prior to his London gold medal triumphs. So why make such a point if not to misdirect the ignorance of the public masses and, perhaps more crucially, concerned sponsors? 

It was this exact attitude that a certain man of notoriety perfected during seven years at the head of the Tour de France peloton, disdainfully swatting away any criticism with the assertion that he was the most tested athlete on the planet. The disgraced cyclist never failed a drugs test in his career despite being a frequent user of victory-inducing viles and syringes.

The obvious conclusion from such systematic abuse is that the tests are almost worthless. A truly successful doper, with the help of an expert coach in disguising chemical ingredients to training, is never clumsy enough to be caught by them.

Journalists have every right to point the finger at Farah if he continues to walk an uncertain line in the glare of a full-scale investigation. For now the key question remains why Mo, who claims to race 100% clean, is willing to place his faith in a man under fire from countless former colleagues, athletes and authorities. Re-enacting 12 Angry Men in front of the television cameras is all well and good but it does little to heal a conscientious observer's faith in modern sport. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Coleman rises from the pits

While all eyes dwell on the marvellous talent of Gareth Bale, the man at the heart of Wales’ unprecedented vaulting of football ambition has skirted the limelight. Chris Coleman’s exploits at the helm of the principality’s soccer side has already broken the fateful heights of Mark Hughes’ tenure a decade ago.

Having followed the often-doomed adventures of the national side for a number of years, the astuteness of the tactics I've seen across this qualification campaign, and most pivotally during the defeat of Belgium on Friday night, is a quality unheard of for Cymru, at least where an oval ball is not concerned. There is no denying that the Belgians are rated as the second best side in the world based solely on the whims of a corrupt organisation, nevertheless, there is equally little debate in suggesting that the formidable attacking prowess of Hazard, Benteke and Lukaku was savagely blunted by Coleman’s modern game-plan.

For the ex-Fulham coach, it was the job that he had spent years preparing for, but when the time came to finally accept the appointment, they were under bitter circumstances. The premature and tragic death of Gary Speed left a void that stretched way beyond the staffing requirements of the Welsh Football Association.

After an immediate sink in form to four consecutive losses, seemingly derailing everything the late manager achieved in his final post, there was no case for dismissing the grief that his players were still carrying. It is remarkable, therefore, that the team’s fortunes have recovered so vibrantly over the past 20 months.

Coleman, a Swansea man from birth, has led his charge into uncharted territory after six unbeaten competitive fixtures. The records are staggering: a probable top World Cup seeding, Wales’ highest FIFA ranking in its history and leaning on the verge of a first major tournament since 1958 – the year Castro joined Communist forces in an invasion of Batista’s Cuba.

Few could have expected such a promising situation from the person who left Greek side AE Larissa to take the reins of his homeland’s hopes. Whereas previously comparisons with Alex Ferguson extended only as far a joking reference to their mutual affection for chewing gum, it may not be long before he outdoes the Scotsman’s own record in international competitions.

After three consecutive games unbeaten against the World Cup quarter-finalists from Brussels, it cannot be said that the improvement in results is any short term fluke. While Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Ashley Williams have rightly claimed the headlines, make no mistake that the man on the touchline is the real architect of this unprecedented success – and I don’t mean the fourth official.

Not only has Coleman inspired his squad of predominantly Championship players into a gutsy, confident unit, but also has them playing a dangerous brand of counter-attacking football. Aside from a narrow escape on Andorra’s horrendous artificial turf, each result in Group A has relied on a solid equilibrium of defensive solidity, exemplified by only three goals conceded to date, and the exploitation of two star assets in attacking roles.

Bale’s improved form for his country is much publicised already. Less chatter, in comparison, is devoted to the consummate ease with which Chris Gunter (Reading), James Chester (Hull City) and Neil Taylor (Swansea City) have all worked interchangeably in a loose defensive five. Each of these defenders harried, blocked and intercepted the Flemings’ bursts forward with a maturity undiscovered so far in their domestic outings. This unbreakable backbone extends across the middle of the pitch where the two Joe’s – Ledley and Allen – play the all-important possession game and seek to supply their Galactico in fruitful positions.

Unlike the sloppy and old-fashioned tactical tempo of the other home nations (see ROI vs Scotland for evidence), most of whom still employ orthodox wingers despite their increasing irrelevance to the modern game, Coleman’s preference for wing backs and a condensed core in midfield has led to pacy and direct football. Friday evening proved that positional pioneers like Belgium, or indeed any continental opponent, can be humbled by the reversal of their own style of play, as happened when Taylor and Swansea teammate Jazz Richards had free reign of the flanks for the entire duration.

As their rivals tire and weaken, especially in the case of lesser nations such as Israel, Wales have gained great advantages by unleashing the speed of Ramsey and Bale to blitz their exasperated markers.

The maturity with which these plans have been developed and executed is a far cry from the days of John Toshack, when systems changed as quickly as the team sheet. Whatever is being said by Coleman (a manager with much less pedigree than his journeyman predecessor), it is clear that his players are listening and acting on his words.

On the eve of this campaign’s hopeful conclusion for Euro 2016, the new unexpected threat to Wales’ dream is that their leader is lured away by domestic suitors, typically offering higher wages and more regular workload as their chief temptation. If/when that place in France next summer is assured, renewed offers are guaranteed to follow.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Swindon Town vs Leyton Orient

Swindon Town 2 - 2 Leyton Orient   (3.5.2015)

In all my travels, I have never found myself in a settlement as unappealingly glum as Swindon. It could not possibly be as bad as everyone says, I naively thought. The town of which I have heard universally bad things, alas, lives up to its ugly reputation.

The County Ground itself, home of the Robins (the third club I have recently visited with the same nickname), is a solidly respectable structure, yet on its doorstep lies endless rows of featureless suburban terracing. Even from the initial sight of the central train station - which appears to have taken a wrong turn from its rightful home in 1950s Yugoslavia - any travelling supporter can experience first-hand how privileged they are to originate from anywhere other than here. It is this characterless corner of Wiltshire to which successive governments, and any right-minded civilian, have averted their gaze and left it to ruin.

Believe it or not, Premier League football once graced this dire dwelling and even, no matter how improbably, entertained the indulgent finesse of Glenn Hoddle as player-manager. A 2-2 scoreline with champions Manchester United was one of the few highlights in a season where the team conceded 100 goals and immediately descended back to the lower reaches.

Despite far more modest fare in recent times, the club is currently riding a crest towards the upper tiers. Mark Cooper’s squad entered this final contest of the regular season with a play-off spot already secured. Visitors Leyton Orient, on the other hand, had their survival in League One at stake, with only a win enough to keep them up depending on results elsewhere.

As it was, Swindon started with a weakened team ahead of their crucial clash with Sheffield United and got what they deserved for their complacency. After endless attempts at the fruitless endeavour of passing across their back line, the home side were caught out on numerous occasions by elementary forward pressing. The Orient strikers didn’t need to be Alan Turing to break this goal kick code, and so it proved when possession was lost and the onrushing forward was brought down by ‘keeper Tyrell Belford.

Once the obvious penalty was given and guilty culprit rightfully dismissed, a quick substitution replaced one Belford for another. Cameron spared his brother’s blushes by saving the ensuing spot kick from Lloyd James, leaving the Londoners to rue their wastefulness. Spurred on by their predicament, the visitors continued to dominate and missed a flurry of ribbon-tied opportunities until Dean Cox eventually struck from a rare piece of fluent football.

This warning wound remained untreated by the higher-placed team, who continued to fanny about with the ball in their most vulnerable area of the pitch. Veteran defender Sam Ricketts, to whom the words ‘ace dribbler’ have never been ascribed, found the ball perilously at his feet more often than anyone else. In fairness, the Bolton loanee has been one of Town’s star performers this season but any tactical nouse in how he is deployed appears non-existent.

After the break, more pseudo-Barca’ trampling created unnecessary pressure, ultimately leading to the away side’s second. Chris Dagnall, who had continually danced across the red-jersey lines but delivered little of substance, suddenly found a spark of quality long enough to bury the ball in the netting and double the advantage.

Long before then, the gloating of the disappointed Swindon support had begun towards their doomed opponents. In football grounds across the globe you have to put up with a certain level of idiocy from fellow fans; sometimes they genuinely can’t help it. But, here I was, surrounded by needlessly smug fools who felt the need to incessantly taunt the away section with celebrations of their likely demise, in spite of the situation on the field.

Although some punters will argue that this was merely traditional ‘banter’, the obvious note of childish, petulant relish was obvious to my neutral sensibilities. Malice and ignorance serve to reflect whatever bad grace inflicts this fan base. If it was local rivals Oxford United I would understand; how cash-strapped Orient deserve such humiliation in these parts is anyone’s guess.

Glenn Hoddle: his haircut never matches its surroundings.
By some unfortunate mistake, I had found myself in the supposed ultras section of the stadium for the first time. I did have one close call before then in Newport, where overhearing the words “When does the drummer get here?” mercifully saved me from a potentially migraine-inducing experience. Indeed, a quick twenty yard glide across a terrace can usually make a surprising difference.

It is a requirement for everyone to sit for the duration of the match, announced the tannoy system prior to kick off at the County Ground.  Well, not a single person in the Town End lowered themselves to their plastic chairs in the entire ninety minutes. Is there a point, therefore, in maintaining seating behind the goal where I was situated? Without safe terracing a certain casual joy is lost within that abstract notion which corporate-types tend to label ‘the matchday experience’. This all-seater venue remains a token relic of the post-Hillsborough changes to top-flight sport. Now that the ground plays host to much less enthusiastic gates, however, the system is pointless and outdated.

Back on the pitch, ten-man Swindon brought themselves level in the second half with goals from Anton Rodgers and Andy Williams. Two substitutions led to their dramatic improvement, so much so that, by the concluding stages, the cockney travellers were relieved to be going down without a departing defeat.

By the end of this Sunday lunchtime fixture, my sympathies were firmly rooted with the demoted club. When the time comes that Swindon once more follow a descent in soccer’s fatefully cyclical lifespan, my sense of justice hopes they taste retribution in the form of the familiar catcalls to which they addressed their opposite numbers. As John Lennon once sang, instant karma’s going to get you – even if you did once tie with Manchester United.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Newport County vs Dagenham and Redbridge

Newport County 2 - 3 Dagenham and Redbridge   (18.4.2015)

There is an appreciation in Newport that things could always be worse. The Welsh border city is the sort of place where alcohol-grizzled, soulful men in their mid-fifties can remember all the words to In the Ghetto and sing it with the sincerity that only raw experience can harbour. This section of the River Usk may never be a beauty spot but the general vibe along its muddy banks is one of thanks for the notable signs of redevelopment.

Supporters of the football club can also be grateful for improved fortunes in recent times. At the end of their second season in League Two since promotion, the club remain competitive, stable and healthy. Most pleasing of all, these happy days have not allowed anyone to forget the tough times in exile, an experience from which the club famously takes its nickname.

Backed by the surprisingly grounded ambition of owner Les Scadding - who earned his fortune from a EuroMillions lottery win in 2009 - their gradual rise from the seventh tier remains financially sustainable. It is a fantastic, though too often neglected, story of a community club benefiting from an unexpected resurgence, all without losing its humility.

I can't deny that I have fallen misty-eyed into the sub-plots of this romantic tale. Here is a place among the football standings where the overall attitude is spot-on. When the feelings and sentiments of a town are so closely matched by its sporting institutions, it is too hard not to be reminded of what this game should, and perhaps used, to be. 

Flicking through the pages of my match programme, previous seasons outside the 92 were recounted with a distinct lack of nostalgia, but neither was there a belittling of that turbulent history. As an aside, £3.50 for a collection of local adverts and ghost written propaganda pieces is extortionate to say the least. Nevertheless, there was a clear sense in its articles that these past 24 months were the reward for years of toil and solidarity on the terraces when hope was lacking.

Newport RFC's Rodney Parade has provided a home for its footballing cousins since their return to the Football League. Uncovered stands and its varying density of standing spectators testifies to the fact that this arena was never designed for soccer. Even with its flaws, however, the riverside venue benefits the average punter and, with a ten year lease signed in 2013, will remain a ground share for the foreseeable future.    

On this spring day, a defeat to Dagenham was enough to realistically end County's play-off chances. With the loss of the popular manager Justin Edinburgh mid-season to Gillingham, the team's morale has failed to recover; the Daggers becoming the fourth team to defeat the tangerine shirts in a row.

For the most part, it looked as though Newport were missing Chris Zebroski's pace up front. A day before kick-off the striker was jailed for an attack on a taxi driver in a case of miserably destructive road rage. Disciplinary issues had similarly depleted the visitors, with Joss Labadie beginning a six month suspension for biting an opponent (his second offence of that nature in the same number of years). Neither story makes for a particularly favourable advertisement of either club, despite both players being clear exceptions. In this encounter either side showed their greater virtues, although ruthlessness was not one for the home side. 

Mark Cousins in the Dagenham goal, perhaps powered by his mighty beard, produced a number of phenomenal reaction saves to deny the hosts a string of obvious chances. In the face of these balletic reflexes between the woodwork, all excitement looked to be subsiding. That is until five clinical strikes were made in the last 12 minutes to flatter the attacking credentials of both teams.
Rodney Parade on another day.

Even though the evergreen Jamie Cureton appeared off-colour, goals from Ashley Hemmings, Christian Doidge and Alex Jakubiak came and went for the London club like a ten minute binge on dandelion and burdock. This unforeseen sugar rush left Rodney Parade mumbling its discontent. A quick response from Cardiff loanee David Tutonda and Aaron O'Connor at the other end stemmed the worst of frustrated grunting in my vicinity but did little to change the overall outcome.

Twenty-two year old Doidge had originally been on trial with the Gwent side during the close season after hitting the net regularly for Carmarthen Town. The former policeman didn't exactly milk his celebrations against the club that had rejected him but his revenge was certainly noted by the local regulars around me.

As Newport's season effectively drew to a close, the only outstanding issues on the club's mind are who should still be representing the team from August. Another defeat did little to buoy anyone's enthusiasm over interim manager Jimmy Dack's future, or indeed those of certain serving players, but one thought remains fresh in everyone's considerations: with a top nine finish in sight and plenty of faces still filling the stands, things could be a whole lot worse. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

North Shields vs Whitley Bay

North Shields 3-0 Whitley Bay  (8.4.2015)

By some force of unnatural magic, I have managed to escape North Shields for the past four years. But when my nomadic adventure eventually finishes, my old stomping ground will come to reclaim my soul and ambitions. Owing to a NE29 postcode, though, I had the benefits of growing up as a Whitley Bay supporter rather than the club resident within NE30. Such are the fine margins of football loyalties. Its not quite the local factionalism of downtown LA but these distinctions are still important in the northern badlands.

Throughout my life the town has gone by its own idiosyncratic rules. Aside from the weather, the settlement could easily double for the location of a Mad Max film. Just last week me and my mates were introduced to 'Big Bad John' - an OAP with surprisingly good arm wrestling skills but lacking the logical faculties when drunk to put his coat on properly. He was a nice guy.

The rough old fishing port, as ever, is going through a difficult time. The economic depression in the area has become so toxic that even the town's McDonalds branch, a mainstay of the local high street since my birth, has closed down. Amongst the usual desolation, however, lies a resurgent force in the shape of the football team, now home to a flourishing Tyneside counter-culture. This niche vibe combines unwavering left wing loyalties, alternative regional music and a growing dissatisfaction with the nefarious greed of the Premier League, as represented by Mike Ashley's regime at Newcastle United. 

A new fanzine for the semi-professional club, titled Harvest From the Deep, is devoted to this terrace ethos. Hopefully the efforts of these local writers will continue beyond their successful first issue. Home and away, the team is also backed by an ever-expanding legion of supporters. At their core is the 'Ultras', most of whom were banned from St James' Park long before the Magpies' current turmoil.

Recent results have also brought an upturn in fortunes for North Shields. Last season's promotion to the Northern League Division One has since been bettered by a forthcoming appearance at Wembley in the FA Vase Final - formerly the Amateurs Cup, which the Robins last won in 1969.

A large portion of the credit must go to manager Graham Fenton (he who famously ended the title hopes of Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers' with two late goals at Ewood Park). Since his appointment two seasons ago, the club has been transformed with a decent footballing ethos among his players and suitable ambition from the boardroom. Nobody is getting carried away here but the Geordie's team could be a force at this level for some time. 

For this Wednesday night game, the home side faced another historic club in the derby dubbed 'El Coastico' by people who ought to know better. While Shields' fortunes have risen, the former strength of neighbours Whitley Bay has rapidly dwindled. Only four years ago the Seahorses had won their third Vase final in a row and were the region's dominant non-league side. Apparently, I was even on the front cover of their matchday programme for an entire season, although I've yet to see the evidence.

Yet, despite some investment in bricks and mortar, Whitley's riches in prize money were squandered on inflated player wages to the point of, as accountants technically describe it, 'being broke'. For the past couple of seasons, the entire squad has been uncertain of any sustainable future; star players have departed, so too the manager Ian Chandler, and replacements have been added with the brevity of a merry-go-round. Not even the most regular observer can recognise the eleven faces in the club's blue and white stripes any more.

Shields seek to avoid that example by making firm financial commitments to improving their ground with a portion of the revenues from their trip to Wembley. Ralph Gardner Park, with its two tiny terrace sheds and a changing rooms, certainly requires updating. But at least the playing surface itself is flat and free of litter. It is a clear step up from the days when the club first arrived at its modern home, in the wake of financial mismanagement bringing it to the brink of collapse. At that time players still changed in the back seat of their cars and dog turds needed to be plucked from the pitch. Even now, snacks are sold from a trolley pushed around the perimeter fence by two elderly volunteers.

As far as mid-week matches in the Northern league go, this was another scrappy affair punctuated by my own crushing realisation that all endeavours are futile. I never have been able to watch live football in the evenings without feeling gloomy. Perhaps Albert Camus' existentialist writings were inspired by similar thoughts when he played in goal.
Camus considers the virtues of playing three centre backs.

Shields proved comfortably superior. They scored two cracking goals shortly after a bludgeoned first, all before the end of the opening half. In the concluding session, the despairing visitors controlled the ball but to little effect. With plenty of fixtures still to play before their big day in the capital, Shields cruised towards the final whistle and safeguarded their advantage. Good order was maintained by a no-nonsense referee with the demeanour of a pub landlord. Aside from a couple of bookings, the derby remained an amicable occasion. 

Sporting victory for this small town is important. In this tiny, deprived, and politically ignored dump (I say with affection), a rebel voice is sounding. Long may it thrive besides a football club which truly reflects the qualities of the people connected to it, from boardroom level to fanbase. The once-almighty Newcastle United cannot say the same.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Fan Salute to Retiring Dan

Outside of rugby union, sport in New Zealand rarely reaches a glorious conclusion. The end to Daniel Vettori’s career, after nearly twenty years as an international cricketer, was never going to be showered in the cool splashes of celebratory champagne. The Kiwis had a World Cup for the whole nation to be proud of but, when their Hollywood moment finally arrived in the March final, the richer, more powerful, and glamorous Aussies (as ever) broke hearts across the Tasman Sea.

As such, the Black Caps’ most successful spinner never had his rose-sprinkled final bow. Instead, his farewell from the sport was more typical of a New Zealand sportsman – modest, understated and with a faint whiff of a John Ford western; the quiet, unrepentant hero riding alone into the sunset.

If it had not been for the unrepeatable exploits of Richard Hadlee, his bespectacled successor in the Kiwi test match side would surely be regarded as the greatest cricketer New Zealand has ever produced. Few pundits speak of the veteran left-arm spinner as one of the sport’s dominant figures but for me, as a teenage fan spellbound by his team’s plucky spirit during their 2008 tour of England, he can be rated as one of the greats, even beyond his peers from the Antipodes islands.

Having made his debut for the Black Caps as a seventeen year old, Vettori went on to claim a staggering 705 wickets across all forms of the game spanning over 300 total appearances. After years of batting at the bottom order, he also developed into a consistent all-rounder, amassing 4531 Test runs, including six centuries.

Even in his 37th year, the returning stalwart played a key part in his team’s path to the World Cup climax, not for the first time proving to be one of the world’s most economical bowlers. Although his career Test bowling average of 34.46 may seem inflated to modern fans, considering he spent almost two decades toiling through long spells in often unfavourable conditions for his orthodox turn, and without consistent support from a frontline pace attack, his statistics clearly do not tell the whole story of his contribution at the crease.

As captain from 2007-2011, his successes were more limited, especially in the longer format. Nevertheless, compared to arguably higher achieving skippers such as Brendon McCullum and Stephen Fleming, Vettori could marshal his colleagues to dare for over-achievement against any of the seemingly stronger nations.

Without ever gaining a reputation for a troublesome personality, Vettori’s naturally outspoken competitiveness allowed him to cause a stir when his squad were treated with injustice. One such occasion was a heated exchange from The Oval balcony after a controversial (that is to say unsporting) run out after a trip by England’s Ryan Sidebottom. Too often the supposed minnows of sport are meant to suffer wrongdoing in silence, yet this strong-willed leader was stubborn enough to cry foul against the ‘big boys’.  

After resigning the burden of captaincy, Vettori’s later efforts were curtailed by chronic injury. If it had not been for these setbacks he could have easily become the first New Zealander to achieve the combined landmark of making 4000 Test runs and 400 wickets.

Wisden may never fully acknowledge Vettori’s steady contribution in the early twenty-first century, particularly when pitted against the likes of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan in the typically pointless Best XI lists, but he is a character who leaves the sport weaker without him. Vettori’s country will never again produce another cricketer of his sort, calibre and style. That final match in Adelaide merely serves as the last ‘if’ moment in his phenomenal, though unrewarded, career.