Captains courageous

Martin Crowe in action during the semifinal against Pakistan in the 1992 World Cup. He scored 91, but missed the second session owing to knee injury and it proved costly for New Zealand.-N. SRIDHARAN

For the sheer weight of their performances and creative skills, Martin Crowe and Stephen Fleming are without peers in New Zealand's World Cup history, writes G. Viswanath.

Of the New Zealand cricketers, none has made a terrific impact in the World Cup like Martin Crowe and Stephen Fleming. Fast bowler Shane Bond bowled at frightening speeds and rocked the rival batting line-ups in South Africa four years ago. Glenn Turner scored an unbeaten 171 against East Africa and 114 not out against India in the 1975 Prudential World Cup. All-rounders Chris Cairns and Chris Harris have left some good memories too, while Richard Hadlee piloted New Zealand to memorable victories against Pakistan and England — both at Edgbaston — in 1983. But for the sheer weight of their performances and creative skills Crowe and Fleming take the top places.

After four failed attempts, New Zealand, jointly hosting the 1992 World Cup with Australia, prepared well for the competition with Crowe at the helm. Troubled by an injured knee, his participation appeared to be in doubt. But allaying all fears that his left knee would not hold out, the New Zealand captain took guard at 13 for two in the first match against Australia at Eden Park, Auckland. He collared the Aussie attack that included Craig McDermott and Bruce Reid and made a superlative 100 not out off 134 balls with 11 boundaries.

Following his spectacular batting effort, Crowe broke convention and surprised the Australians by introducing off-spinner Dipak Patel in the second over itself. On a slow Eden Park pitch, Patel bowled 10 overs for 36 runs and claimed the wicket of skipper Allan Border very cheaply. Medium pacers Gavin Larsen, Chris Harris and Rod Latham were equally economical as New Zealand shocked its trans-Tasman rival by 37 runs despite David Boon's hard-fought century.

Form deserted Crowe in the next two matches, against Sri Lanka and South Africa, but he was back at his best against Zimbabwe (74 not out), West Indies (81 not out) and England (73 not out). He then scored an attacking 91 in 83 balls (seven fours and three sixes) against Pakistan in the semifinal at Eden Park. However, Crowe's wobbly knee prevented him from taking control in the second session and New Zealand suffered in his absence. Pakistan, helped by Javed Miandad and Inzamam-Ul-Haq, staged a splendid recovery and went through to the final.

Crowe, however, topped the batting averages in the tournament with 456 runs at 114.00.

Four years later in India, New Zealand, backed by Nathan Astles's pyrotechnics (101 in 132 balls) and Dion Nash's superb bowling (three for 26), set off to a winning start against England. However, the team led by Lee Germon failed to get past the quarterfinal stage.

Stephen Fleming was not a hit in the next edition of the World Cup in England. But his breathtaking century against South Africa at the Wanderers in 2003 was worth travelling miles to see. Led by Herschelle Gibbs' fierce onslaught (143 in 141 balls, 19 fours and three sixes) South Africa set New Zealand a huge target of 307. Rain interfered and the target was revised to 226 in 39 overs. After a sparkling opening stand with Craig McMillan, Fleming (722 runs in 23 World Cup matches) went on to score an unbeaten 134 in 132 balls that paved the way for New Zealand's nine-wicket victory.

In the Super Six, New Zealand almost had Australia on the mat after Shane Bond's remarkable six for 23. Chasing 209 for victory, the Kiwis fumbled against Glenn McGrath (three for 29) and Brett Lee (five for 42) and were shot out for 112. Skipper Fleming fought a lone battle scoring 48.