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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
Fleming: The captain's captain
By Scott Heinrich

There is nothing sports fans enjoy more than a good argument about the respective merits of their teams or individual players.

Stephen Fleming with Brendon McCullum and Daryl Tuffey
Fleming is widely regarded as the premier captain in international cricket
New Zealand Cricket chief Martin Snedden

In cricket, Australia won the last two World Cups and win Test match after Test match, and are unquestionably the best team in the world.

But there are still subjects which generate a healthy debate.

How, for example, has Stephen Fleming, captain of the fifth-ranked Test team, come to be widely regarded as the finest leader in cricket?

It's almost impossible to sing Fleming's praises without in some way demeaning the players who serve under him - he is seen as the man who makes New Zealand a great deal more than the sum of their parts.

Fleming has it all - the man-management of Mike Brearley, the tactical nous of Mark Taylor, the common sense of Imran Khan and now, the batting consistency of Sachin Tendulkar.

"He is a delightful guy and I always knew he was going to do a very good job as captain," Steve Rixon, New Zealand's coach when Fleming became captain seven years ago, told BBC Sport.

"At one stage it was affecting his batting but we just had to get on top of that.

Stephen Fleming
Tests: 82
Runs: 5,027 at an ave of 38.0
Tests as captain: 58
Runs: 3,563 at an ave of 38.7

"He's been outstanding with the bat over the last couple of years - that was the final part for him to polish off and become a great batsman as well as an outstanding captain and diplomat for the game."

Fleming became New Zealand's youngest Test skipper at 23 when, during England's visit in early 1997, he replaced Lee Germon.

The Kiwis were in a bad state, with one Test win from their previous 19 and still reeling from the 1994-5 tour to South Africa where four players were caught smoking cannabis.

The 58 Tests New Zealand played before Fleming's reign brought seven victories. In the 58 under Fleming, they have won 20.

Rixon says the penny dropped for Fleming on the 1999 tour of England, which New Zealand won 2-1.

"When we first started I said 'while I'm making most of the decisions and you're relating them to the players, somewhere along the way you will cross over and you'll be making the decisions by yourself'.

"I said we wouldn't even know it's happened because we have such a good relationship.

"I knew when it happened it would be an interesting time and it did in England when I could see he was so far on top of his own captaincy.

"I just eased away from it and backed off, and he said to me 'did you feel the changeover?' and it was a nice little moment that we experienced together."

Brian Lara walks off the field as New Zealand celebrate at the World Cup
NZ's dismissal of Lara in the World Cup typified the side's resolve

Fleming struggled with the bat in the early part of his captaincy, scoring just one century in 38 Tests - against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 1998 - after taking the reins.

But things turned around in the drawn series in Australia in 2001, where a century in Perth was the perfect complement to a rallying, counterpunching display of capaincy.

Fleming - the captain and the batsman - was seen at his best in the 2003 World Cup.

His awesome ton against South Africa won the game for the Black Caps, while the match-turning relay run-out of Brian Lara in Port Elizabeth did not involve Fleming but was redolent of his influence.

The runs did not stop coming, with Fleming striking a wonderful 274 not out against Sri Lanka in his first Test innings after the tournament.

He followed that with a knock of 192 against Pakistan at the end of 2003, underlining his stature as a top-order batsman of immense quality.

New Zealand acknowledged their popular leader by naming him cricketer of the year last month, and deservedly so.

Fleming knows he does not possess the best troops in world cricket, but luckily for New Zealand they have the greatest leader to marshal them.




SEE ALSO
Fleming handed NZ award
31 Mar 04  |  Cricket


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