New Zealand v Australia, 3rd Test, Auckland, 1st day March 26, 2005

Captaincy conundrums

Stephen Fleming regained his form with a little help from Ricky Ponting's tactics © Getty Images

After hardly missing a trick all summer, Ricky Ponting's bowling selections either side of lunch let New Zealand's embattled skipper, Stephen Fleming, off the hook. Instead of under going another Glenn McGrath examination first up, Fleming was able to rescue his form slump with a little help from his counterpart.

On his arrival at the crease in the middle of the 22nd over, Fleming only had to survive three testing deliveries from McGrath as Ponting chose to bowl himself in the next over, the penultimate one before lunch. Throughout the series, McGrath has partnered Shane Warne at the start of the second session and, despite McGrath's stranglehold over Fleming and an analysis of 1 for 8 off 11 overs in the morning session, Ponting went for Jason Gillespie.

With the pressure released, Fleming hit Warne out of the attack and was on 32 when McGrath began his next spell 50 minutes into the session. With a hint of confidence back, Fleming then played out four consecutive McGrath maidens. Whereas he picked the wrong ball to pad up to at Wellington, he demonstrated excellent judgment of McGrath's line today.

With Hamish Marshall on top of his game and bringing up his half-century at the other end, Fleming, looked perfectly at home at No. 4, and ensured that being an opener was purely a holiday flirtation. Fleming eventually eked out a single to deprive McGrath a fifth maiden in a row. Marshall then saw off McGrath and Fleming unleashed a trademark cover drive off Michael Kasprowicz, forcing Ponting into a double change.

With just 142 runs coming in the first two sessions it was hardly exhilarating stuff but the assurance with which Marshall and Fleming played far exceeded in importance any Easter entertainment. As the momentum shifted so did Fleming's luck; when he did not offer a shot to Warne somehow he survived the closest of lbw shouts.

One expected James Marshall to possess the technique to open at this level and he looked comfortable enough on a pitch that offered little to the seamers. If he can gain inspiration from Hamish's early Test exploits, New Zealand may just have found a twin answer to its perpetual top-order woes and, in doing so, created anxiety for the injured Scott Styris and Craig McMillan with Fleming's slip back down the order.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show.