England v New Zealand, 3rd Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day June 10, 2004

A polylingual Prince Charming

The Wisden Verdict by Emma John



Stephen Fleming: fluent and elegant © Getty Images

It wasn't a full house at Trent Bridge. Which is probably just as well, because if the roars of disbelief had been any louder, the match referee would have had to fine the crowd for dissent.

Simon Taufel had just turned down an lbw shout against Stephen Fleming. Fleming had played no stroke to Andrew Flintoff's inswinger, thrusting his pad at the ball, and with his arms holding the bat high above his head like a woodman's axe. The ball nipped back and hit him in line with off stump. The England team celebrated their long-awaited first wicket. Taufel said no.

As Shakespeare said in Richard II, "How long a time lies in one little word." In this case it was around two hours, between that appeal 13 overs after lunch, and the moment he was finally out 10 overs after tea, having completed his seventh Test century and taken New Zealand to 225 for 1. Such, as the Bard tells us, is the breath of kings. Or umpires.

But you can't give Taufel credit for Fleming's flair, or his refusal to be cowed by the events of the last two Tests. Today he shrugged off the context of a 2-0 deficit in the series to play his own game, displaying all the fluency and elegance of a polylingual Prince Charming. After England's bowlers had had things under almost military control for the first 45 minutes of the day, Fleming decided it was time to strike out, taking three boundaries off two overs, and six from nine. His drives rasped through the covers, but he particularly delighted in flicking anything straight to leg, memorably off Ashley Giles in the 45th over, when he followed a snap-wristed four along the ground to mid-on with another hoisted through the air, to exactly the same place, for six.

New Zealand needed a performance like this to restore morale, and after the tortuous near-miss of Headingley it clearly couldn't have meant more to Fleming. Lofting a six over square, he stuck his fist straight up in the air like Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics before giving a more traditional salute to his team, the crowd, and his girlfriend.

But how often in this series can history repeat itself? Just as at Lord's and Headingley, New Zealand's solid top-order start looked set to cave in on itself after a Stephen Harmison blitzkrieg of two wickets in two balls. Once, an England team would have looked on an overnight total of 295 for 4 with trepidation. Now the pattern favours them. Tomorrow morning they will take the field with the confidence that, for them, victory is always possible.

Emma John is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer.