On 6th February, 1997, a tall and bespectacled lad made his international debut for New Zealand against England. His wily left arm spin made him a tricky bowler to deal with in the coming years, and his handy batting won him many accolades. By the time he retired in 2015, he was not a bespectacled lad anymore: he had become a Kiwi legend known by the name Daniel Vettori and the legacy he left behind inspired a generation of budding cricketers. When it seemed almost impossible to fill the boots of a player like Vettori, Mitchell Santner arrived at the international scene for New Zealand and immediately caught the attention of fans and pundits alike.
Whenever a legend retires from a team he leaves behind a huge void to fill. The respective team management tries to look for the best possible replacements to fill the boots of those legendary players as perfect replacements are the rarest of rare things.
However, when Vettori the legend retired in 2015, New Zealand already had a near perfect replacement available in Mitchell Santner. Vettori and Santner have a lot in common. On observing Santner closely, it can easily be gleaned that his whole bowling action is based on Daniel Vettori’s action. And why not? After all, he was the one who almost single-handedly led New Zealand’s spin attack for over a decade.
Santner, however, has an edge to both his bowling and batting when it comes to comparison with Vettori. He is a big turner of the ball, while Vettori depended more on his variations than raw spin and turn. And when it comes to batting, he can hit the ball pretty big, as was evident when he hit 28 runs off an Adil Rashid over (4 sixes, 1 four) in just his 4th match of international cricket against England in 2015. With this X-factor, he can become a much more dangerous player than he is now as he goes on gaining experience.
Nobody can forget his devastating spell of 4/11 against India in the World T20 2016 when he made the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma dance to his tunes. He and his fellow spinners defended a low total and helped New Zealand win by a margin of 47 runs; quite huge in a low-scoring game. Even in the recently concluded Test series against India, he showed good composure with both bat and ball. He even scored a fighting half-century: a gritty and determined innings of 71 in the second Test providing some hope to the Black Cap fans in a dull match for them.
Vettori’s numbers of over 600 wickets and 6000 runs in international cricket is not something easily achieved. Santner, who is only 24 years old at the moment, can easily go past this record if he continues to play for at least the next 10 years in all formats of the game. Moreover, the frequency of games has also increased drastically in the last five years, and that gives Santner more time in which to go past Vettori’s record.
At the moment Santner has a good orthodox action and generates a good amount of turn with the ball. But he needs to learn to vary his pace and pitch the ball more consistently in the right areas. As far as his batting is concerned, the Kiwis have shown firm faith in him, sending him to bat at No. 6 in all formats. He has a solid technique, with the composure of a top-order batsman and the big-hitting capability of a finisher. Moreover, a couple of centuries and six half-centuries in just 25 First Class games speak volumes about his capability as a batsman.
There is no doubt about the fact that Santner is the rightful successor to the throne of Vettori and possibly a future legend. The talent and skill that he has now will only get better with hard work and experience. However, New Zealand should also take care of the fact that they do not exhaust him completely playing him in one match after another. Team management should take proper care of his fitness and should rest him in less significant matches.
Even though Vettori’s numbers with both bat and ball seem quite big, anyone who has followed him through the years will know how his career was marred by injuries from time to time. If he had been free from major injuries, he would be a much more dominant name in World cricket than he already is.
However, as cricketers pay more attention to fitness these days, the chances of major injuries are lower. If Santner maintains his prime fitness over the next ten years he will become one of the greatest all-rounders in the World if not the best.
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