Fleming's efficiency forges New Zealand bond

By Angus Fraser
Saturday 08 March 2003 01:00

Nasser Hussain has gone, Shaun Pollock is hanging on by the finest of threads and it can only be a matter of time before Waqar Younis gets the chop. Swimming with crocodiles appears a less hazardous occupation than captaining a side which fails to qualify for the second round of the World Cup.

However, while England, South Africa and Pakistan's leaders recover from their mauling and attempt to forget that this tournament is still taking place the credentials of one captain continue to rise. Like England, New Zealand chose not to play in one of their first round matches. Unlike England though such a setback failed to prevent their qualification for the Super Sixes, and today New Zealand play their first second stage match against Zimbabwe here.

In order to reach this stage of the competition New Zealand had to defeat two strong teams in their group and this they managed by beating the West Indies and South Africa. For achieving this feat a great slice of credit must go to Stephen Fleming, their highly respected captain.

And it is the leadership of Fleming and the type of team spirit his presence creates that are the main reasons why New Zealand consistently out perform sides like England, who are man for man stronger than them. New Zealand's success does not surprise me because in 2001 Fleming spent a season with Middlesex when I was captain. The 29-year-old is one of the most impressive men I have met.

Firstly Fleming is a good bloke. He is calm, quiet, deliberate and unaffected by his success. He knows what he wants and commands respect primarily through the way he conducts himself. The Kiwi is also strong, clear and decisive in his decision making when he needs to be and it is no coincidence that this was New Zealand's approach to not playing in Kenya. England's umming and erring affected the players because it wore them down whereas New Zealand's took little energy out of them.

The reason why the performance New Zealand's cricketers produce is greater than the sum of its parts is that, as a team, they attempt to create something which is bigger than any of the individuals playing. Dressing rooms can be very selfish places which are dominated by strong characters but New Zealand's attitude means that for the players the performance of the team is more important that their own personal achievements.

In an effort to achieve this New Zealand treat their "Black Caps'' in the way that Australia have used the "Baggy Green'' cap to mould them as a side. The Kiwi view is that the 11 selected for a Test match are only custodians of the cap whilst they are playing. On the eve of each Test they are presented with their cap for this match only to give it back at the end of the game.

To add extra sentiment the caps are presented by a former Test or one-day player or a person who is important to New Zealand cricket. As well as making the event more poignant it also makes those involved feel part of the set up. Only when their careers are over do the players have the right to own their cap. Although the World Cup is one-day cricket the honour of this will extend from the Test arena.

With just four points going into the Super Sixes and with only Zimbabwe below them on three-and-a-half, New Zealand will need to draw on every bit of assistance they can if they wish to qualify for the semi-finals. With both sides yet to play the invincible Australians the loser of today's game is virtually out of the tournament.

New Zealand will be unchanged from the side which beat Canada on Monday and Zimbabwe are likely to retain the line-up from the abandoned match against Pakistan. One player that will not feature for Zimbabwe is batsman Mark Vermeulen who fractured his skull when a rising ball from Travis Friend crashed through his helmet visor in practice yesterday.

New Zealand: *S P Fleming, C D McMillan, N J Astle, C L Cairns, S B Styris, C Z Harris, A R Adams, J D P Oram, D R Dettori, B B McCullum, S E Bond.

ZImbabwe: *H Streak, D D Ebrahim, C B Wishart, A Flower, G W Flower, G J Whittal, T Taibu, A M Blignaut, D Marillier, S Irvine, D T Hondo.

Umpires: R Koertzen (SA) D Hair (Aus).

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