A natural leader


Stephen Fleming, the most capped Kiwi at Test and one-day level, closed his international career and, according to one of his former employers, he will leave a hole that his country will find difficult to fill, writes Paul Weaver.

New Zealand have been warned just what they will be missing when they tour England without their former captain Stephen Fleming, who bowed out of Test cricket. Fleming, the most capped Kiwi at Test and one-day level, closed his international career against England in Napier and, according to one of his former employers, he will leave a hole that his country will find difficult to fill.

"When you assess Stephen you're not just talking about his value as a player, though, as everyone knows, he is a fine batsman and a terrific slip fielder," said Derek Brewer, the chief executive of Nottinghamshire whom Fleming captained to the County Championship in 2005, their first since 1987. "But he also brings an intellectual and tactical quality to any team he plays for. I had the pleasure of working with him for three years at Trent Bridge and in that time, of course, he led us to the title."

Fleming had intended to tour England but after being controversially replaced as the captain he opted to earn some career-twilight money playing Twenty20 cricket in the Indian Premier League.

Brewer added: "As a player, Stephen was particularly good in the one-day competitions, though it was a double century he scored against Derbyshire in the championship last season which comes most easily to mind for me. But he gave you so much more. He had a particular impact with the younger players. He was a leader and he offered so much insight into not only the game but other players."

FLEMING SCORED 66 against England in Napier in his final Test innings, to nudge his career average over 40 (he needed 54 runs). Averaging 40 in Test cricket is still a benchmark but does not quite have the value it once did. Fleming's conversion rate - he scored 44 fifties but only nine centuries - is a disappointment but he has still scored more Test runs than any New Zealander and his wicket would have been prized in England this season.

After brief stops at Middlesex and Yorkshire, Fleming played most of his county cricket (2005-07) at Trent Bridge, where he was also the captain. Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, said: "I remember when we signed him. He didn't want to mess around as some do. He wanted to know if we were serious about winning things and about the other players there. He was such a good captain you would play him just for that, although we were very happy with his runs return. Players respected his leadership, as they did Clive Rice before him."

FLEMING'S IMPACT WAS immediate as the county claimed their fifth championship. "He had this intellectual approach, was tactically strong and always talking about the game. He got bored with formulaic 50-over cricket but loved the challenge of the longer game and Twenty20 cricket," added Newell. "He was also a tremendous slipper, with huge hands. As a tall batsman he would hit length balls down the ground, where others would be going on to the back foot, and he also played a number of unusual shots, like the way he would flick a straight ball over backward square-leg."

THE FORMER ENGLAND all-rounder Mark Ealham, who played alongside Fleming at Trent Bridge, added: "He told me he was going to come to England with New Zealand in the summer but then the IPL came calling and I think he got a bit of a sniff of doing commentary, too. With a child on the way it probably wasn't a difficult decision. We all love playing the game but some people forget the travel and fitness demands as well as the time away from the family. It gets harder. I know he was feeling his body a bit and you can't swing a leg at the level he's used to. As a batsman he could be ungainly at times. But on his day he was very graceful and a good hitter on the up. He was a natural leader, too. He had a bit of an aura about him. He was good at man management and had a great sense of humour, too."

Factfile Tests: 111; Runs: 7,172; Ave: 40.06.

Test debut v India, March 1994. Scored 16 and 92.

Highest Test score: 274* v Sri Lanka, April 2003, Colombo.

ODIs: 280; Runs: 8,037; Ave: 32.40.

ODI debut v India, Napier, March 1994. Scored 90.

Highest ODI score: 134* v South Africa, February 2003, Johannesburg.

Second on all-time Test catches list with 171, Mark Waugh has 181.

New Zealand’s most capped Test player, 25 ahead of Richard Hadlee;

New Zealand’s most capped ODI player, 29 ahead of Chris Harris.

Captained the Kiwis in 80 Tests, winning 28; captain in 218 ODIs, winning 98.