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Kiwis' Fleming is nobody's fool

South Africa discovered on Sunday that you underestimate New Zealand and their skipper Stephen Fleming at your peril.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2003 13:56 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

South Africa discovered on Sunday that you underestimate New Zealand and their skipper Stephen Fleming at your peril.

They may not be as overwhelming favourites as Australia, but are capable of making life miserable for other fancied teams in the World Cup as the Proteas found out to their cost at the Wanderers, as the Black Caps pulled off a nine-wicket win despite chasing 306.

Fleming is a shrewd captain who has earned accolades as much for his leadership as for his gutsy batting and he acknowledged on Sunday that he sensed his time had come after his match-winning 134.

"A lot was on the line. It was a must-win situation and as captain I felt I had to make my mark as a player. It's the World Cup. This was my day."

Acknowledged as one of the most cerebral international captains, Fleming admitted to concern that he had not always performed well enough as a player.

"It's an honour to lead your country but to win a game as a player is a bigger thrill. It gets respect and you feel better about yourself as well. You make better decisions when you're feeling confident."

He added that a let-off when South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher dropped him on 53 off Jacques Kallis was "a big moment in the game".

"It came at a time when things were getting a bit loose. That often happens when you're chasing a big score and then two or three wickets can fall and the game is over. It was a good reminder to me that I had to bat through."

Fleming was born on April's Fool Day,but he can make rival captains appear fools when it comes to tactics and man management. No wonder, Australian leg-spin magician Shane Warne has called him the best captain in the world.

Australian captain Steve Waugh has said New Zealand is a team without stars who "always seem to play well against us".

New Zealand in fact have been playing well against all the teams of late although their campaign here got off to a poor start when they lost to 1996 champions Sri Lanka.

Observers believe that credit goes to Fleming for transforming a team of honest triers into a major force in international cricket.

New Zealand's stock has been rising steadily since Fleming took over the captaincy from Lee Germon in 1996-97 at the age of 23. His main contribution, experts feel, is to make his team regain its self-belief.

Fleming's best moment came at Nairobi in Kenya in 2000 when his team beat India in the final of the ICC Trophy for their first major international success in the shorter version of the game.

Waugh was at the receiving end of Fleming's calculated planning last year when his team failed to qualify for a triangular one-day series final also involving South Africa for the third time since the contest began in 1979-80.

Fleming, though playing within rules, was accused of undermining the "spirit of the game" when he handed a bonus point to South Africa in order to make Australia's task more difficult in the last league game.

The 29-year-old left-hander is not as big a batsman as India's Sachin Tendulkar or West Indian Brian Lara, but is capable of rising to the occasion with his bold and courageous stroke-play.

First Published: Feb 17, 2003 13:56 IST