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Fleming was perfect

The famed Wanderers Bullring has for many years, ensured that visiting teams are subjected to extreme pressure right from the first ball.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2003 01:22 IST

The coliseum of South African cricket turned into a place of mourning within the space of a few hours. The famed Wanderers Bullring has for many years, ensured that visiting teams are subjected to extreme pressure right from the first ball.

It was until the end of the New Zealand match— a venue that could be relied upon to produce a favourable result to the home team.

Sadly, this will never be the case for a long while to come. The match was rightly billed as a final for the Kiwis and a ticket to the Super Six for the Proteas. Nobody in their right mind would have given even the visitors a shot at scoring in excess of 250, let alone winning the match.

Pollock won the toss and had no hesitation in asking the Kiwis to go out and bowl in front of his faithful supporters. His batsmen strode out with confidence and right from the start, did what was expected of them.

They did even more than that. Gibbs was in magnificent form and showed his class to all who dared to be there. He will seldom, if ever, play a match again wherein he scores 143 and then end up lying in the change room wondering how his team lost.

Smith, Kallis, Boucher and Klusener all played their part. And with a total of 306 on the board in a match of the stature, it would have relaxed the bowlers -- just enough for them to think they could afford to make a few mistakes and still have enough to win comfortably.

For some time now, Stephen Fleming has been rock solid as a leader for New Zealand. And his ability with the bat has not always been reflected in the number of matches he has won for his team.

The Kiwis were staring down the barrel and he had to deliver. With McMillan, Astle, Cairns and Styris all being stroke makers, Fleming had to bat through the innings at a rate quick enough to ensure the pressure did not build. In other words, he had to pace not only his innings but also that of his batting partners to ensure a win.

He did it to perfection. Africa is a place where nature is part of everyday life. The Wanderers is part of this great wonder and when Mother Nature decided it was time for rain, it didn't help the Proteas at all. A wet ball and a slightly juiced up pitch was just the tonic that the Kiwi batsmen needed to force them to keep their composure and focus on the task at hand.

It wasn't the first time that a South African team felt the weather had gone against them at the wrong time. Who can forget the 1992 World Cup when rain changed a finely balanced match to the point of needing 22 runs off one delivery.

Coupled to conditions changing to suite the batsmen, father time was also asking questions of the greatest fast bowler South Africa has ever produced. Allan Donald had to be a key backup to Pollock and Ntini. His role has always been to create pressure and then to take wickets when batsmen hear those "voices" talking to them.

Unfortunately, he could not deliver. Pollock tried every combination available to him and nothing could stop the resolve of the Kiwi skipper.

Leaving the ground reminded me of a funeral I attended a few months back. The same hollow feeling existed and the urge to get away from the place as quickly as possible was also there. No one spoke in the long rows at every exit. The reality only hits home a little while later— South Africa may not even make the next round.