He rocked a strong batting line-up

Fleming produced a magic spell at the Wankhede on that February night to figure prominently in the score sheet. It was probably the best ever spell of the sixth World Cup, the result of which was a 16-run win for Mark Taylor's Australia over India.

G. VISWANATH

AUSTRALIA'S bowlers have either been linked to the bush like Glenn McGrath or to the beach like Shane Warne. True dinkums, both had a spectacular rise to the top, the lithe and wiry McGrath looking forward to a 10 a.m. start on a fresh wicket with the shining new ball and a one time Australian Rules Football forward, Warne, eagerly waiting for his opportunity to mesmerise batsmen before and after lunch and stir some people from their slumber.

A snap poll before the start of the India-Australia day/night match at the Wankhede Stadium would have probably seen a close race between McGrath and Warne for taking home a bagful. Damien William Fleming would not have been even remotely fancied to rock the strong Indian batting line up.

But swing bowling is Fleming's forte and in Wankhede Stadium where the humidity levels are always likely to be in the vicinity of 90s, Fleming not only had the potential to pose a real threat, but also turn out to be a match-winner. Batsmen tend to underestimate some bowlers, and Fleming did not mind being in the ranks of a celebrated bowler like McGrath. He was perfectly happy being the underdog, which history would tell us, has often gone on overdrive and played havoc.

Fleming produced a magic spell at the Wankhede on that February night to figure prominently in the score sheet. It was probably the best ever spell of the sixth World Cup, the result of which was a 16-run win for Mark Taylor's Australia over India. The Indians did not take the field at the Wankhede with happy World Cup memories. Nearly a decade ago in 1987 Mike Gatting's England and Graham Gooch were jointly responsible for shattering Kapil Dev's dreams of making the final. Australia set a target of 259, a one man show by Mark Waugh (126, 135 balls, 8 x 4s, 3 x 6s) and some contribution by Taylor (59, 75 balls, 8 x 4s, 1 x 6) being the high points in the first session of play. Five of the eleven batsmen — Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Shane Lee and Damien Fleming — ran themselves out. Indian seamers — Manoj Prabhakar (10-0-55-0), Javagal Srinath (10-1-51-0) and Venkatesh Prasad (10-0-49-2) had accounted for a little over sixty per cent of Australia's 258.

The surface might not have helped the Indian seamers, but Fleming, who is actually skillful at doing things with the ball in the air and not relying entirely on the pitch, delivered the first blow trapping Ajay Jadeja leg before after the right hander had made one run off 17 balls. With Fleming getting his rhythm, there was no respite for the Indians.

The fall of their batsmen was achieved in a most clear cut and swift manner. Left hander Vinod Kambli and captain Mohammed Azharuddin were bowled as the home team declined to three for 7. Having made the early inroads, Australia was able to sustain pressure and though Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar baulked the Australians for over an hour, Fleming had put his team on course to victory.

McGrath, Shane Lee, Mark Waugh, Michael Bevan were plundered for runs. India banked on the individual brilliance of Tendulkar. But after Tendulkar's departure (stumped by Ian Healy off Mark Waugh), Fleming returned to mop up the tail. His fourth and fifth wickets were that of Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. Fleming bowled nine overs and captured five for 36, easily the best bowling effort in the 1996 World Cup jointly held by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

After his initial burst against India, Fleming became a permanent fixture in the remaining part of the World Cup with Paul Reiffel used sparingly. The match against India was Fleming's first in the tournament. He took 12 wickets in a World Cup where bowlers did not have much scope.

West Indies off spinner Roger Harper came into the picture at Karachi in the quarterfinal between West Indies and South Africa. Harper took four wickets — Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan, Steve Palframan and Shaun Pollock — on the trot for South Africa to be knocked out of the tournament after a great run in the league.

Then the wizard of Oz, Warne, took four wickets for 36 from nine overs in the semifinal against West Indies at Jaipur.

His victims were Courtney Browne, Otis Gibson, Jimmy Adams and Ian Bishop. The leg spinner had taken four for 34 against Zimbabwe.

Waqar Younis took four for 26 against Holland at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore and Guy Whittal had four for 40 against West Indies at the Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad. But from among this lot, Fleming had to be the pick because of the nature of the contest.