Captain marvel

"I couldn't have asked for anything more. To contribute the way I did with the bat was the most important thing. To get a big score on the board was vital, just for the confidence." - STEPHEN FLEMING-

Stephen Fleming, playing in his 194th match as captain — a world record — led by example. His innings proved to be the decisive factor in New Zealand's victory, writes Vijay Lokapally.

It was a night to remember for Stephen Fleming. Playing in his record 194th one-day international as captain, the New Zealander left his mark on the contest with his excellent leadership. He first guided his team to a position of strength and then plotted the downfall of Pakistan, the most unpredictable and inconsistent side in world cricket.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more. To contribute the way I did with the bat was the most important thing. To get a big score on the board was vital, just for the confidence. The number of balls that passed the bat and the number of inside edges that went for one could have been fatal on any other day, but we made the most of it today and put up a pretty competitive score." That was how Fleming analysed his team's batting, and his own knock.

Fleming's innings may not be among his best, but the New Zealand captain did enough to fire his team. "The ball was nipping around. It was a pretty pacy wicket. Honestly, it was a case of survival for the majority of the innings. In the later half of the 50 overs we were able to put our feet down with wickets in hand. I'm not batting as well as I can, but I am getting the job done. That is often the most important thing," he said.

Fleming read the situation perfectly. It was essential that he hung around and motivated his team, which was low on confidence. "We have to learn to win titles and not just matches," he had remarked on the eve of the match.

THE OTHER HEROES... New Zealand's Scot Styris (below) played a crucial innings, while Shane Bond (above) delivered debilitating blows to the Pakistan batting in three fiery spells.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Fleming led by example. His innings proved to be the decisive factor even though Scott Styris came up with a characteristically gutsy performance before fast bowler Shane Bond took over. "What we saw was a guy with extra pace. He is also extremely smart and bowls different bouncers of varying pace in the slog overs. That is the kind of things he works on. He is also very quick on his day," said Fleming in praise of Bond, who bowled in three spells and claimed three wickets at crucial stages.

Fleming was named the Man of the Match for his towering performance. With this match, he had set a new benchmark for consecutive appearances as captain, displacing Sri Lanka's Arjuna Ranatunga at the top.

Styris was the unsung hero in New Zealand's victory. He played a crucial innings, batting with a runner and making the most of a reprieve he had when he was on 16.

S. SUBRAMANIUM

Pakistan's failure was collective. "We needed at least two long partnerships if we were going to chase that total. And there was a period during the match when we were confident we could do it. But we lost wickets. We just made too many mistakes with the bat, with the ball, and unfortunately in the field. Credit must go to New Zealand. They played very well," said the Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer. The last 10 overs, when Pakistan conceded 99 runs to some big hitting by Styris, Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum, made the difference.

"We made too many mistakes in the last 10 overs. They hurt us very badly. We bowled too many length balls, too many wide balls," said a dejected Woolmer. A target of 275 was always tough but Pakistan lost momentum right at the top following poor shot selection and its chase fell in disarray. Though the partnership between Mohammad Yousuf and Shoaib Malik raised some hopes, the two lacked the will to finish the job.

THE SCORES

Mohali, Chandigarh, October 25, 2006. New Zealand won by 51 runs.

New Zealand: L. Vincent b Umar Gul 3; S. P. Fleming c & b Shoaib Malik 80; N. J. Astle c Younis Khan b Naved-ul-Hasan 15; P. G. Fulton lbw b Iftikhar Anjum 7; S. B. Styris c Iftikhar Anjum b Umar Gul 86; J. D. P. Oram c Umar Gul b Abdul Razzaq 31; B. B. McCullum c Shoaib Malik b Abdul Razzaq 27; J. E. C. Franklin (not out) 9; D. L. Vettori (not out) 0; Extras (lb-8, w-7, nb-1) 16; Total (for seven wkts. in 50 overs) 274.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-23, 3-60, 4-168, 5-220, 6-254, 7-270.

Pakistan bowling: Naved-ul-Hasan 8-0-44-1; Umar Gul 9-1-47-2; Iftikhar Anjum 8-2-41-1; Abdul Razzaq 10-1-60-2; Shahid Afridi 10-0-49-0; Shoaib Malik 5-0-25-1.

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez c McCullum b Oram 43; Imran Farhat c Mills b Bond 6; Younis Khan c Vincent b Mills 2; Mohammad Yousuf c Fleming b Bond 71; Shahid Afridi c Bond b Oram 4; Shoaib Malik c Astle b Vettori 52; Abdul Razzaq c Franklin b Bond 6; Kamran Akmal c Fleming b Mills 16; Naved-ul-Hasan c McCullum b Franklin 1; Umar Gul (run out) 8; Iftikhar Anjum (not out) 0; Extras (lb-5, w-5, nb-4) 14; Total (in 46.3 overs) 223.

Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-45, 3-65, 4-83, 5-177, 6-195, 7-202, 8-205, 9-223.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 7.3-1-38-2; Bond 10-0-45-3; Franklin 9-0-47-1; Oram 8-1-25-2; Vettori 10-0-52-1; Astle 2-0-11-0.