"I am happy I got a good grounding in Test cricket before I started playing the one-davers. What I hear from people is that I have a fair record. I am only 25 and hope to play for another 10 vears. I have to know a lot about international cricket. The earlier I pick it up the better," said Stephen Fleming on whom the New Zealand Cricket Council (NZCC) has placed its trust to develop the young team. Fleming's appointment as captain was the culmination of the changes in the administration and cricketing fronts that took place after its centenary year in 1995. Coach Glenn Turner and captain Lee Germon were removed and in came Steve Rixon and Fleming.
Excerpts from an interview with Sportstar:
You made your Test debut against India in 1994. And in 1997, you were made the captain. Was it the prevailing circumstances that led to your appointment as captain? The New Zealand team itself has changed a lot in the last three years?
Well, I don't think, I got it (captaincy) by default. There was an opportunity to name a young captain. It's not that I wanted it, but at the same it's hard to turn down the decision of the selectors. As a young cricketer, I thought I would captain my country at some point of time in my career. Well, there was the opportunity for me after three vears of international cricket. And I could see I could make an impact as a captain at a young age.
It was probably a wise move, looking to develop a captain. I am 25 now and I have played a little bit of international cricket and learnt a lot in the last four years, and there are a few things that will show up in my records. There is a huge gap between first class in New Zealand and international cricket. It is a small country with a small pool of players.
In India and Australia, the plavers have to put together plenty of performances to make the team. But in New I Zealand, first class cricket is not really I tough, and hence it's a bigger jump. The cricket set up in New Zealand is taking time to develop and I shape its players. But as one would i have seen, we are trying to stick to a group of plavers and give them i chances.
It's said a young man always brings fresh ideas. Would you say your focus shifted to captaincy even when you were trying to establish yourself as a batsman?
Well, my batting was going I nowhere at that point of time. I was getting good starts, and having 50 plus knocks against most countries. But one can look at it in two ways. Whether captaincy was going to be detrimental and going to take my I concentration away from batting, or I whether my batting would improve because of the additional responsibility. It can help your batting. I decided 'to stick with it and I said to myself I am going to make it work with me and that I am going to be leading and preaching from the front.
Perhaps you are not in a situation wherein your Board is looking for positive results right away?
Let me put it this way. I think there is a bit of leeway considering my age and experience and also the age and experience of the team I have. But having said that, there has to be positive results to prove your worth as captain or coach. At home our record is fine. We enjoyed our one-day series against Australia, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. At home we are playing good cricket. It is as a touring side we have to get it right. It's frustrating not being able to win a series away. We won the first Test in Sri Lanka. There is a lot of pressure on the team to get the results. There is also a bit of sympathy for the young team, but I guess we have to be judged in the next two years.
I think the players are showing responsibility, but they are also frustrated. They don't know how long it will take to get more encouraging results. But once again I think it comes back to the small country scenario. One has to keep in mind that the previous teams also went through the struggles and learnt the trade before starting to win consistently.
Hadlee (Richard) and Crowe (Martin) became great players after going through a process. The same goes for John Bracewell, John Wright and quite a few others. In New Zealand, the pressure on the players is not as great as in other countries. It takes a longer time to rebuild a team in New Zealand. Well, it happened in Australia, but it took Allan Border three to four years to build a competitive team.
What are your expectations from the present team?
I think we have some fine players like Adam Parore, Craig McMillan, Nathan Astle and Daniel Vettori. Hadlee, Crowe and the others became great players between 28 and 32. So I think we have the core now to develop into a fine team in the next five years. They have the potential to become consistent and then very good. Someone like Chris Harris is an enigma. He has had a lot of opportunities. He has not performed up to the standard one would expect. He has not been consistent.
What we are doing now is taking a few things from the others. India has Tendulkar, Azhar, Ganguly and Jadeja at the top. On a given day, one or two among the top four, decides to take on the responsibility. We are not selfish when we have a bat in hand, but if one or two or three can do it together, the job is done. But I suppose this will come only with experience. It's like one batsman saying to himself, "Hey...it's my day." But the whole thing is based on experience.
We do a lot of talking, but basically it comes down to the individual on that day. What job he has to do and how he does it. I feel a lot more confident in Tests than in one dayers.
Your team has had quite a few coaches in the last three years. How different has one been from the other? You have Steve Rixon as coach now.
I think it's halted the team's progress. The changes in the coach and personnel have brought in different philosophies and different ideas. And I think it has been detrimental to the rebuilding of the team. But now with Christopher Doig at the top, everything is in order. Steve Rixon has been good. He has introduced the Australian philosophy and energy into New Zealand cricket. We have improved our fielding. Steve has been good.
Your team won the first Test in Sri Lanka, but lost the next two?
The pitch for the first Test was a good one. It turned, but it was even. But there was inconsistent bounce in the next two, which we don't encounter at home. The ball popped up and we don't have the technique the sub-continental batsmen have. The Lankan bowlers bowled six out of six on the spot and gave nothing away, whereas our bowlers bowled only four on the spot.
We applied the same pressure, but batsman like Arjuna and De Silva were adept in easing the pressure with a boundary. There was very little difference between the two sides, but the better understanding of the conditions led to Lankan wins in the second and third Tests. But we had some good sessions.
Do you agree with the other captains about the allegation that teams are playing too much one-day cricket?
We have a prettv good balance between Tests and one davers. Our Board understands the pressures on players and turns down invitations. It's up to the Boards to see whether the players have had enough cricket. In New Zealand, we have excellent communication with the Board and seldom does the establishment budge from the schedule. We play about 10 to 12 Tests, and 30 one-davers. We are happy with that.
This interview was first published in Sportstar magazine on 15.02.1998
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