In the last World Cup, these were the elements of magic: Steve Waugh needing to rescue his team from elimination; a dropped catch by one of the best fielder in the game. Then, it was the Aussie skipper who blazed a classic scoring an unbeaten 120 to guide Australia to the semi-finals.
Now, it was Stephen Fleming, whose team, having already lost one game to Sri Lanka and, forfeited four points to Kenya and were in a must-win situation to remain in the contention for the Super Sixes stage.
On February 16, Fleming, who has acquired a reputation as an imaginative, thinking-man’s captains seem to lack answers to the unstoppable Herschelle Gibbs who blasted 143 off 147 balls and early flight back home on March 4 looked a distinct possibility for the Black Caps.
South Africa had already posted 301 in their 50 overs and millions of fans would have switched off their television sets predicting an easy win for Proteas.
The tall-left hander strode out to the crease and began the run-chase in the most spectacular fashion and the jam-packed crowd was stunned to funeral silence.
Fleming played a lovely innings, scoring swiftly without appearing to rush. Prolific off his pads, he repeatedly worked the ball away with a roll of the wrist, now and then leaning back to place the ball through mid-wicket with a straight bat.
Fleming did edge once, when on 53 and Mark Boucher dropped a sitter. Besides that,it was thoroughly unruffled display that precisely met the demand. Fleming was not disturbed by the size of the target or a long interruption due to power failure.
Even as he set off down the pitch to complete his 100th run, Fleming was raising his arm and punching the air as he knew how important that was to the context of the game.
Soon afterwards the players left the field and Fleming’s side was placed in a very comfortable position. At last the rains stopped and Duck-Worth Lewis method reduced the target to a mere 44 runs in 51 balls with nine wickets in hand.
Fleming moved on, passing his highest score in one-day internationals. It was a real captain’s knock which was good enough to inspire any Test playing captain. His innings contained all the qualities that define his captaincy – it was composed, authoritative, responsible and innovative.
He finished on an unbeaten 134 and it was the knock under intense pressure and, by his own calculation, rated it as his finest international innings.
Though there were other good performances — Allan Davison 111 of 76 balls against West Indies, which is the fastest hundred in all World Cups. Sachin Tendulkar's classic 152 against Namibia. James Anderson four-wicket burst against Pakistan at Cape Town, but Kiwi skipper moved well ahead on points.
Salute Stephen Fleming