Fleming and New Zealand entitled to respect after stunning comeback win
New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming came into the National Bank Test Series wanting his side to be respected for its achievements, past, present and future, and today's 78-run win to draw the series with England 1-1 went a long way towards ensuring that respect.
It took some bold decisions, and some innovation, especially under the lights last night, but the stability provided by the impact players selected for the match, Chris Harris who scored an invaluable 71 in the first innings, Daryl Tuffey who took nine wickets and Andre Adams who took six, allowed Fleming to dictate on his own terms.
Fleming was required to throw some caution to the wind to achieve that and at 19/4 on the first day of the Test his gamble was under question.
The win was New Zealand's first over England at home since 1984, Fleming's 16th as captain, and while his batting contribution throughout the series was minimal he had the personal satisfaction of leading New Zealand to its 50th victory in Tests and also becoming the first New Zealander to take 100 catches.
Nasser Hussain, the England captain, might not be concerned about the ICC Test Championship ladder, but Fleming had the satisfaction of taking New Zealand to fourth on the ladder, forcing England back to fifth.
But reflecting on what amounted to a victory achieved in the equivalent of eight sessions of normal playing time, Fleming said that even when 19/4 he felt New Zealand were in the best position to make the most out of what the wicket had to offer.
So it proved when he declared overnight and left England with 312 as a target in a minimum of 105 overs today.
England went for broke and at lunch had scored a staggering 154/5, but the momentum was always with New Zealand, even after Fleming dropped Hussain off the fourth ball after the break.
At one stage Hussain threatened to hold up the victory, but he ran out of partners as Nathan Astle slowed what had been a frenetic run rate, and then picked up a key wicket in Mark Butcher from a ball that exploded off the pitch and lobbed from Butcher's bat to be caught at point by reserve fielder Brooke Walker.
It was then Tuffey, the player of the match, Adams and Chris Drum, who had 11 Tests between them who undid England by taking three wickets each. Their bowling throughout the match, might not have been as tight as Fleming would have liked when he claimed too many boundaries were conceded, but they were better than England's bowlers in the conditions and that made the difference.
"They went for a lot of boundaries, but they took wickets throughout. I would have liked them to be a lot tighter," Fleming said.
The key wickets were Graham Thorpe, who got a faint edge to a ball from Tuffey to be caught by Adam Parore to become his 200th wicket-keeping dismissal, and Hussain who was squared up by Adams and offered him a caught and bowled chance which he pounced on.
Getting runs in the third innings had been vital to New Zealand's ultimate success because throughout the series England had denied them opportunities at vital times. England had been very professional and New Zealand had been up against it in the match and they needed to take risks.
Hussain said afterwards that even when New Zealand were 19/4 he thought his bowlers had not bowled well. He said a gusty wind at the northern end of the ground had been a problem when New Zealand forced a draw here four years ago and it was a concern again in those circumstances.
"We bowled poorly on that sort of wicket to let them get up to 200. The wicket was doing plenty all the way through," he said.
Batting on the third evening when the shadows were coming across the pitch had been difficult and New Zealand had used them well to have England 11/3.
Hussain explained his concerns about having to field while New Zealand were batting under the lights last night.
"They had set a base of 200 ahead and they were going to tee off as the ball got older. That's how Astle wants to play, it suits his game and it suits Adams' game. By that time the damage had been done, even if they had batted on a little bit this morning the game was always going to be a result on a wicket like that," Hussain said.
"I thought we bowled fine last night, when sides come at you like that you have to vary your pace.
"The thing about last night was that some of our boys were struggling to see the ball.
"I mentioned that to Venkat [umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan] and Venkat fully agreed with me and said, 'Yeah it is difficult, but in no time in the history of the game has any side been taken off fielding and as far as Test cricket goes and ICC regulations say you can't take a side off fielding, speak to the ICC about it', and I've got no problem with that," he said.
Hussain didn't want to be labelled "a whinging English captain".
There had been some fascinating cricket played in the series, the cricket had been excellent but the lighting issue had to be looked at by people off the field.
"The New Zealand side are very resilient, we've always known that. They're a similar side to us, they're hard to break down. I've always said in a three match series we have to be at our best all the time to beat sides and we were just off by one or two hours in this game and we got nailed," he said.
That is respect, just as Fleming wanted it.