NZ beat Pak to reach ICC Trophy semifinal
It was a special occasion for Stephen Fleming anyway. But the New Zealand captain was not content with just becoming the most capped captain in One-day Internationals (ODIs); he wanted to mark the occasion with a performance befitting it.
Against Pakistan on Wednesday, he didn't disappoint - neither as a batsman nor as a skipper. First he came up with a classy 80 to help New Zealand set up a challenging total of 274 and then marshalled his troops magnificently to fight the opposition and the dew to guide his team to a 51-run victory and into the semifinals of the Champions Trophy.
The victory that looked quite comfortable in the end appeared under threat when Mohammed Yousuf and Shoaib Mallik were at the crease. The duo put the Pakistan innings back on track after the team had lost four wickets well before reaching even 100. Yousuf, in particular, looked in fine touch and was brilliant in picking up the gaps and dispatching loose deliveries to the boundary.
But as his partnership with Mallik began to look threatening, Fleming brought back Shane Bond. The bowler had Yousuf caught by Fleming for 71. That proved to be the turning point of the match. Mallik tried to keep the chase on, but it was all over for them once Mallik was sent back by Daniel Vettori.
Earlier, Fleming's knock gave New Zealand the platform from which Scott Styris and Company launched the final assault on Pakistan. In the process, Fleming snatched another record from Arjuna Ranatunga to become the highest run-getting skipper along with becoming the most capped skipper.
Fleming's innings gains even more importance in the light of the conditions it came in. The ball was darting around on a lively wicket early on and the Kiwis had to struggle for survival after Younis invited them to bat.
The Pakistan bowlers compounded their problems as they used the conditions well to keep the Kiwis on their toes. Umar Gul, in particular, made the best use of the fresh wicket and uprooted Vincent's stump in his very first over. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan too struck soon to see off Nathan Astle.
But by this time Fleming, who too had struggled initially, had adjusted to the changed conditions and was middling the ball. He saw off the new ball mixing caution with controlled aggression.
That remained the pattern of his innings. He would defend when the situation demanded so and then, all of a sudden, unleash a counterattack to deny Pakistan control of the situation. He found an able partner in Scott Styris and stitched together a partnership of 108 runs that gave the Kiwis the platform to launch their final assault.
He, however, offered a return catch to Mallik just when he would have liked to signal the all-out attack. But Styris did not let the momentum wane.