Fleming makes merry

Stephen Fleming decided to gift himself a century a day after his 34th birthday. He played many memorable strokes _ a square drive off the under-par Mashrafe Mortaza stood apart. By the time the left-arm spinners came on, the left-hander was set.-AP

New Zealand's defeat against Bangladesh in a warm-up game ahead of the World Cup did much for the side. Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, went so far as to say it "set us up for the tournament". A report by S. Ram Mahesh.

In sport it is forever thus. Defeats and the lessons taken from them shape careers. Pete Sampras, the great tennis player, has spoken of how an early loss to Stefan Edberg was his moment of epiphany; Roger Federer has made similar comments about losses in his early years as a gifted but confused player.

On a minor scale, New Zealand's defeat against Bangladesh in a warm-up game ahead of the World Cup did much for the side. Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain went so far as to say it "set us up for the tournament".

The Super Eight game between the two sides was hence one of interest.

"We were definitely nervous because we were expected to win and win well," admitted Fleming. "The pressure of not wanting to lose was what we had to deal with, but we learnt a good lesson when they rolled us over (in the warm-up game), and that set us up for the rest of the tournament. We just gave them the respect we'd give any other international side."

New Zealand inserted Bangladesh because "we were convinced they aren't as comfortable setting targets as they are chasing them", and took the game away in the middle overs. Bangladesh's openers made a concerted effort to preserve wickets. One felt they did admirably though their captain Habibul Bashar suggested they had overdone the caution.

The trouble wasn't in overdoing caution; such starts are mandated by the conditions early — the key is to then continue, not throw it away and deprive the side of momentum. Bangladesh did precisely that. To Jacob Oram and Scott Stryis they gifted the wickets of their three top batsmen, all of whom made the twenties. Then, Shane Bond took over in a fine second spell to cripple the innings.

"When I throw Shane the ball to get a wicket he delivers most times, and that has been key to keeping teams down to low scores," said Fleming. "The way he's been doing it is with subtlety, changes of pace and a little reverse swing, and the length that he's hitting is top-class. It makes captaincy during that period very easy."

Bond's fitness is key to New Zealand's chances, and he knows it. "My injuries are well documented," he said. "So, I try to work as hard as I can off the field so I stay on it."

The 31-year-old fast bowler has 25 wickets in 12 World Cup games at under 16 runs per wicket: numbers that confirm his quality.

Bond makes no secret of his ambition. "It's always a goal to be the No. 1 bowler in the world," he said, "but so long as I can put in performances that help us win, that's all that matters."

The target of 175 was never going to test New Zealand. Fleming decided to gift himself a century a day after his 34th birthday. He played many memorable strokes — a square drive off the under-par Mashrafe Mortaza stood apart. By the time the left-arm spinners came on, the left-hander was set.

"They can be tricky especially if you give them wickets. They can then shell you down," said Fleming. "The key is to play them from a position of strength. You can then dominate them."

Fleming swept the left-armers high over mid-wicket, to race to 102 in 92 balls. Peter Fulton, the other opener, threw away an opportunity to settle into the spot made vacant by Lou Vincent's departure. Hamish Marshall helped himself to a half-century.

"It was a pretty ordinary two games," said Bashar. "But we have to take the lessons forward. We have to work hard on our batting. We are giving away our wickets too easily, that can't be done. We have to find a balance — we're either blocking or hitting."

New Zealand showed again that it, more than any other side, can deal with the loss of bowlers mid-innings. Michael Mason limped off with strain and James Franklin left with a migraine.

"Believe me, that's par for the course," said Fleming. "We're so well used to this, we just flick into a patch-up mode to get through, with our back-up and part-time bowlers covering the overs. It's a concern, and going forward we want to eliminate it, but at the moment we've got depth and cover, and today was a good reflection of the way the team is responding to adversity."

THE SCORES

Super Eight: Bangladesh v New Zealand. New Zealand won by nine wickets.

Bangladesh: J. Omar c McCullum b Oram 22; T. Iqbal st. McCullum b Oram 29; Aftab c (sub) b Styris 27; S. Hasan b Bond 25; H. Bashar (run out) 9; M. Ashraful b Styris 3; M. Rahim b Bond 0; M. Mortaza b Styris 2; M. Rafique (not out) 30; A. Razzak c (sub) b Styris 0; S. Rasel b Oram 10; Extras (b-5, lb-10, w-2) 17. Total (in 48.3 overs) 174.

Fall of wkts: 1-55, 2-62, 3-105, 4-122, 5-127, 6-127, 7-129, 8-140, 9-140.

New Zealand bowling: Mason 1.3-1-4-0; Bond 10-4-15-2; McMillan 1.3-0-6-0; Franklin 6-1-27-0; Oram 9.3-0-30-3; Vettori 10-0-34-0; Styris 10-1-43-4.

New Zealand: P. Fulton c Iqbal b Rasel 15; S. Fleming (not out) 102; H. Marshall (not out) 50; Extras (w-11) 11. Total (for one wkt., in 29.2 overs) 178.

Fall of wkt: 44.

Bangladesh bowling: Mortaza 6-0-41-0; Rasel 7-0-22-1; Razzak 8-0-38-0; Rafique 5-0-37-0; Hasan 3-0-33-0; Ashraful 0.2-0-7-0.