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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > News > Report

Fleming's new zeal too much for SA

Prem Panicker | February 16, 2003 22:44 IST

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You could use a thousand words to describe it. But one word will do: Magnificent.

New Zealand went in with several strikes against them. The batsmen are out of form. They were out-batted by South Africa. They were playing in front of a home crowd that made no secret of its loyalties.

And, as if all this wasn't enough, the Kiwis knew going in that rain, Duckworth Lewis, and suchlike acts of god could become a factor.

They could have gotten daunted. They could have folded. They did not -- instead, they took the bull by the horns, and led a charge that can only be described as magnificent; the sort of performance that defines teams, and adds luster to a competition of this kind.

The venue matched the occasion -- the famed Bull Ring at the Wanderers, in Johannesburg, as setting for a key game between New Zealand and South Africa.

The hosts and pre-tournament joint favourites had lost their opening encounter to the West Indies, before pulling one back against Kenya.

Against that, New Zealand had defeated the West Indies, after being mauled by the lions from Sri Lanka.

Never mind run rates, points carried into the Super Six stage and all the rest of it – both teams went into this game needing to win.

The other day, in the game between Australia and Pakistan, the Wanderers produced a pitch with some life for the quicks. This one, in contrast, was dry, bare, brown and looked good for batting with a possibility that it would slow down as the game progressed.

South Africa made two changes, one of them forced: Graeme Smith, whose exclusion from the original squad had raised eyebrows earlier, came in for the injured Jonty Rhodes; Allan Donald, who was replaced by Charl Langerveldt after an indifferent opening game against the West Indies, reclaimed his place in the XI.

The Kiwis made one change – bringing back the out of form Craig McMillan for the equally out of form Chris Harris, perhaps backing McMillan's record against South Africa.

Shaun Pollock won the toss and had no hesitation batting first. And the drama began immediately. A fiery delivery from Shane Bond had Graeme Smith swishing and edging, for Nathan Astle at second slip to hold with effortless flair -- only for the umpire to stick his hand sideways in signal of the no ball.

In Bond's next over, Smith creamed him for three fours, forcing skipper Stephen Fleming to replace his fastest bowler with Jacob Oram. At the other end, Jacob Oram presented Herschelle Gibbs with a fair share of problems, the opener just surviving a huge appeal for caught behind.

Smith made much of the early running, before Bond was brought back to resume the contest. Smith top edged a pull and Brendan McCullum, running a good 20 yards back from his wicket-keeper's position, held a brilliantly judged case.

By then, however, Gibbs had settled his early nerves, and was ready to rock and roll. The Bull Ring became both venue and metaphor, as Gibbs gored the Kiwis with a display of brilliant shots.

Nicky Boje was greeted by a searing bouncer from Bond that clocked him on the helmet, but  the pinch hitter shrugged off the blow and an over later, was blasting the bowler through the covers to announce his arrival at the party.

The introduction of Daniel Vettori and more accurately, the exit of the quicker bowlers, saw a slowing down of the run rate. Boje's exhibition of enterprise (29 off 37) ended when Scott Styris sneaked one through his defenses.

Jacques Kallis, coming in behind the pinch-hitter, played into the hands of the Black Caps, getting becalmed for long stretches of time and, in the process, adversely affecting Gibbs' momentum as well.

In fact, it came as a bit of a relief when Kallis, looking to drive Vettori inside out over covers (a shot that had earlier fetched him a six) was caught by Lou Vincent at cover, and South Africa got back to the business of piling them up when Mark Boucher walked out to the middle.

Gibbs -- who seemed uncharacteristically nervous in his nineties -- greeted Boucher with a gentle tap down to deep fine leg to bring up his 12th ODI century off 121 deliveries, with 11 fours and two sixes as exclamation points in an innings of rare brilliance.

He celebrated by blasting a six over wide mid on later in the same over from Styris, and rounded it off with a blazing extra cover drive in the same over to have the Proteas 208/3 at the 40 over mark.

The 43rd over was -- that Bull Ring analogy again -- an exercise in wanton cruelty. Gibbs danced down and blasted the first ball from Vettori back past the bowler with incredible power to the straight field. Two deliveries later, he swung one, with brutal force, about 12 rows into the stands behind midwicket. To the next ball, he was down the track, straight driving but this time, getting under the ball to power it over the sightscreen behind the bowler. The mayhem was rounded off by an exquisite cover drive off the last ball, at the end of which SA had raced to 243/3 after 43 overs, Gibbs 133/136 with 17 fours and three sixes, starring in a partnership of 50 off just 29 balls.

It was almost as if Gibbs was tired of waiting for pinch-hitters and assorted other mayhem merchants to do the job, and had decided that if it needed doing he was the best man for it. A good thing, too – Boucher was struggling, and his attempt to hit himself out of the hole saw him whacking Oram to Cairns at wide mid on, the fielder misjudging the aerial hit initially then recovering to take a great catch.

Lance Klusener (World Cup average 113.67, WC strike rate 120) had barely announced himself with an almost-six in the 45th over, off the hitherto economical Andre Adams, when Gibbs holed out.

The batsman, whose straight hitting on the day was exemplary, hit that one shot too many across his body in the next over, off Oram, when an attempted swing over midwicket picked out Craig McMillan on the fence (260/5) to end an innings that ranks, in brilliance, with Brian Lara's effort against the Proteas in the curtain raiser.

From then on, everything happened in fast forward mode: big hits (Pollock, Klusener), incredible fielding (the whole darn Kiwi squad). Bond (51 in 8 till then) came in for the 48th. Against the background of an approaching storm in the skies and a Klusener storm on the ground, Pollock swung one from Adams high and down the throat of Jacob Oram at wide midwicket (287/6).

Gary Kirsten looked rather perplexed as he walked out in the 49th over -- on his good days, that is generally when he walks back to the pavilion. But then again, all he had to do was take the single and give it to 'Zulu' -- who ended with two fours off Bond's last over, and South Africa  had 306/6 on the board (the third 100 coming off 61 deliveries) at the end of the 50 overs.

When you have a score like that, talking of the bowling is pretty pointless – they came, got tonked, and disappeared. Fleming tried to slow things down with Oram and Vettori; he tried to speed things up with Bond and Adams – and the ball went flying faster and faster.

The Kiwi chase began under a cloud -- literally. It was almost certain that it would rain -- and more than the ask rate of 6+, it was another statistic that was on everyone's minds as Fleming and McMillan came out to open – 103 for no loss in 25 overs.

If the Kiwis could make that happen, they would win in the event of rain. If they lost a wicket, the number of runs needed would go up.

The start was sedate, with McMillan looking fidgety and Fleming uncertain where his off stump is. Makhaya Ntini in particular looked threatening, getting the ball to lift and seam at speeds approaching the 150k mark.

It was Fleming who began opening out, employing his two best shots to get the party underway – the upper cut over backward point, and the flick off his pads that he plays with a sub-continental flair. As the shots flew off the bat, he also started using his third pet shot -- the pull off front foot or back, to anything even remotely short of length.

Allan Donald was going to be the weak link, on the evidence of his showing in game one against the Windies. No sooner did he come on, then McMillan, till then content to play second fiddle in the Fleming orchestra, played a mind-bending pull over long on off the front foot; Fleming added his riff with one of his trademark flicks to long on.

Electric as it was, that was merely prelude to the next over, when Jacques Kallis was destroyed for four consecutive fours by a series of drives, cuts and flicks that silenced the Bull Ring and put frowns on the faces of the Proteas.

Runs came at a torrent as Fleming went from unsettled to assured. Donald came on after Pollock and Ntini had done their stuff, and got McMillan nicking to Boucher, an over after the keeper had messed as simple a catch as it is possible to get behind the stumps, off Fleming. Rain drove the players off the field, for the first time, with the Black Caps on 97/1.

When the players came back on, some 20 minutes later, it was as if there was no interruption -- Fleming picked up where he left off, and Donald continued to suffer. Ntini came back on and bowled a maiden in the 22nd over of the innings, but Fleming made up lost ground with two brilliant pulls in the next over off Pollock.

Shortly thereafter -- in the 30th over, in fact -- Fleming steered one to third man to bring up his first World Cup hundred, pumped his fist once in celebration, and got back to business. But not for long, as the rains came back with the Kiwis 182/1 after 30.3 overs -- a score that meant that if the rains persisted, and the game was called off, the Kiwis would have been declared winners.

The South Africans got their foot back in the door, when the skies cleared marginally and play resumed. The requirement, however, had been revised -- to 44 runs off 51 deliveries which meant that the Kiwis, with 9 wickets in hand, seemed to have the upper hand.

What the Proteas had going for them was the crowd -- every dot ball was cheered as the crowd visibly egged the home team into greater efforts. To win, the Kiwis had to take bull, and Bull Ring, by the horns.

The force, though, was with the Kiwis. Defying conventional wisdom that such breaks let the bowling side recoup while the batsmen lose their rhythm, Astle and Fleming kept flowing -- the former, another batsman searching for form and confidence, upping his game for the crunch and reaching a combative 50 (52 balls) with a straight hit so vicious that it nearly brained Umpire Bucknor.

But Astle, McMillan, and the Proteas on the park were merely extras to the main act. Stephen Fleming's strategic savvy is mentioned often; his lack of form, as often. Today, the first was of no use to him as his bowlers got tonked by the inspired Gibbs and the murderous Klusener.

What was left, for him, was to draw on an unsuspected wellspring of personal courage; to find within himself abilities he probably was not aware of -- to come out facing a daunting task and by his own personal effort, drag his team past the winning post in a fashion as awesome as it was inspirational.

That Fleming won the game off his own bat, by carving Donald for four, two, four, was fitting -- what is a fairy tale without a perfect ending?

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Number of User Comments: 24

Sub: amazing.........

when SA struck 306,i thought it would be a night mare for NZ .the fight was amazing,he is great,fleming is really great.the match is a ...

Posted by sandyareddy

Sub: Captains innings.

Hats off to Stephen.What a innings.What a superb display of batsmanship.What a manly,handsome performance. Look out Indians,especially tripple "S".Be bold and win all the games ...

Posted by sanjay

Sub: Your match reviews suck

Mr. Panicker, Your writing sucks. All your notes on the matches are pathetic. Why can't you be just straight and simple while writing. Crucial points ...

Posted by PremSucks

Sub: Fleming stuns SA and the world.

Simply majestic and arrogant was Fleming's innings.Probably all the talent and the skills of Sachin & Sourav hv been stolen by the Kiwi Captain. ...

Posted by M E Nathan

Sub: howz that

Please ask Prem to mention only Cricket and not his "excellent" but irritating English. This is not a qualifying test for entrace to Oxford.

Posted by Abhishek


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