How often do you see international captains pick up their teammates’ kits after a training session or play around with net bowlers?
It made a pleasing sight the other day when Stephen Fleming, who only some 36 hours earlier guided his ailing side to a comfortable victory against South Africa, carried the wicket-keeping pads, batting gloves and other accessories of his teammate Brendan McCullum besides some of his own.
The 33-year-old Canterburian, who will equal Arjuna Ranatunga’s record for captaining his country in the maximum ODIs -- 193 -- on Friday against the Emerald Isles -- also placed a pack of ice cubes on the head of a net bowler to cool him off under the rising temperature at the Wankhede stadium.
Fleming, who took over the reins from Lee Germon a decade ago, is an astute but unselfish captain. It is perhaps this characteristic that has drawn accolades and respect from his contemporaries.
The left-hander also has a sense of humour. Asked on Thursday if there was any particular reason for left-handers dominating at Brabourne stadium -- besides his own 89 against South Africa, Adam Gilchrist (92) and Brian Lara (71) on Wednesday -- Fleming said: “One is the world’s best player (referring to himself),” before bursting into laughter. His answer to the question was: “It is just a coincidence.”
It has not been easy leading a New Zealand side that is frequently plagued by injuries. On the eve of the game against Lanka, Fleming had just 11 fit cricketers.
He said it could be frustrating at times. “Our resources are such that if we lose a big player, we don’t have the luxury of replacing him with equally-skilled player like Australia or India do. It is quite hard on us.”
The journey as a captain has been see-saw. He admitted that he was “pretty proud, statistically” of being capped as the Kiwi captain for the 193rd time. “I am enjoying captaincy now more than ever before and am learning more now with the side,” he said.
Fleming proudly lifted the Champions Trophy in 2000 in Kenya. On the difference between then and now, he said: “In 2000, we hoped we could win it. Now, we have come here with a genuine expectation as a contender. That’s the major difference. We have blooded new players in the last couple of years and they are developing experience. Now we play in tournaments to win, that’s a big change than what it was in 2000.”
Admitting that New Zealand have not been consistent, he said the reasons could be in the way his team prepared for tournaments. “We were content at winning one game in a tournament,” he said.
“The ambition may not have been to win the tournament. Now, we want to prove we are good sides who can beat them all. We do not want to come to tournaments as dark horses. We are consistent at the moment and need to back that by winning every game.”
As a batsman, Fleming has a poor conversion rate in both Tests and ODIs. He has got only six hundreds but 44 half-centuries from 254 ODIs. “If you are selfishly inclined towards statistics, you keep getting to three figures. I will be more than happy with a good 70 or a good 80,” he said.
Fleming still dreams of the big one. “As a captain, you dream of lifting the World Cup,” he said. “It (2007) may be my last World Cup, it may not be. But I have got to play well to do that, lead from the front. To do that, I have got to do my job. That is to get runs, because younger players tend to follow good leaders.”