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The Wisden Verdict by Andrew McLean
March 28, 2005
In society strangulation is a crime but, as Stephen Fleming showed today, in cricket it can be an artform. Fleming was not as polished as Picasso but he certainly was in control in the morning session.
Throughout this series Fleming's tactical nous has been stymied by Australia's domination but today he was able to scrape an advantage from the excellent period of pressure created by the medium pace of Nathan Astle and the offspin of Paul Wiseman late on the second day.
Opening with Wiseman from one end and the pace of James Franklin at the other, Fleming worked to a strategy, even if his grassed chance from Michael Clarke or James Marshall's direct hit to make up for it were not part of the plan. With clever rotation of the bowlers the pressure intensified. Daniel Vettori replaced Wiseman, who in turn replaced Franklin, Astle was brought in, and Wiseman swapped to Vettori's end.
All the time Fleming delayed taking the new ball and although the wickets of the night watchman Jason Gillespie and Simon Katich did not follow, neither did the runs with just 74 added by the lunch break. When Gillespie was lucky to survive Wiseman's lbw shout, the delay of Adam Gilchrist's carnage was arguably a positive for New Zealand.
Wiseman probed around Gillespie's off-stump and Astle again bowled an enticing line to Katich, his five overs costing just six runs. Despite the run famine, Fleming, at slip, was the only man in close on the off side when Wiseman bowled to Katich. That followed Franklin having just one slip when Katich came to the wicket.
Stuck in neutral, Katich edged consecutive Wiseman deliveries agonisingly close to Fleming but neither forced a field change and Gillespie's inside edge onto pad off Astle lobbed up but also fell safely.
With rain lurking around Eden Park, Katich's aggressive intent when dismissed by Franklin indicated Australia had started second session conscious of getting a move on and Shane Warne's loose shot that ended in Fleming's hands at slip confirmed it.
In the sixth over with the new ball Warne had became Franklin's fourth victim. At Dhaka in October Franklin claimed only the second hattrick by a New Zealander but was given a rude awakening by Justin Langer at Adelaide the following month. In this series Franklin has removed Langer twice and earned high praise from Damien Martyn at Wellington.
After a rain break Fleming tossed Franklin the ball and he soon had his best Test figures; his 6 for 119 surpassing his 5 for 28 at Dhaka and being exponentially more satisfying.
As an indictor of his rhythm, Franklin was able to consistently hit the 136 kph mark on an easy-paced wicket. In an attack short on pace and wicket-takers and with two Tests against Sri Lanka just a week away, Franklin's form could not be more timely.
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