Bangladesh v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Chittagong, 1st day October 26, 2004

A record day for Fleming

Once, twice, three times a record-holder



Stephen Fleming: most caps, and most runs too © Getty Images

The scorecard shows that Stephen Fleming's unbeaten 137 has New Zealand well on the way to setting an imposing total after the first day of the second Test at Chittagong. What it doesn't tell you is three achievements by Fleming that are now part of New Zealand's nostalgia.

His 87th cap was the most won by a New Zealander in Test cricket. When he strode to the crease for the 150th time it was the greatest number of Test innings for New Zealand. And off the last ball of the 58th over Fleming lofted Mohammad Rafique over mid-off for four to move to 81 and surpass Martin Crowe's record aggregate of runs in Tests for New Zealand. No harm in doing it all at once.

Scott Styris threatened to share in the spoils, but while he lost the plot on 89, Fleming soldiered on in uncomfortably humid conditions to craft his eighth Test century. So in control was Fleming that his Test-bst of 274 not out looks easily gettable tomorrow - he's halfway there already.

It was a quality innings from a player who has taken his game to a new level in recent times: Fleming's six centuries in the last three years is a considerably better return than the two he managed in the previous eight.

Too often in his early years Fleming's graceful strokes were cut short by an inexplicable dismissal. Today's innings was not his most attractive, but in the circumstances it was exactly what was required. While the opener Mark Richardson did not learn from the loose shot he played at Dhaka, Fleming did. There were no wild swings outside off, good balls were defended and the bad ones punished accordingly. From the start he looked assured and, throughout his chanceless innings, runs flowed with a nonchalant ease.

With his Test average now approaching 40, and having exceeded Crowe's career tally of 5444 Test runs, Fleming, at the age of 31, has the opportunity to go down as one of the game's greats. His new-found maturity and hunger for runs - not to mention his remarkable run without serious injury - are just a few factors in his favour.

Although the imbalance in Fleming's 50:100 ratio may remain a talking point - 35 fifties to go with those eight tons now - it is now of limited relevance. Since the tour of Australia in November 2001, Fleming has scored 1905 runs at an average of 45, with six hundreds and six half-centuries. This is not by chance, either. Recognising that he "didn't know how to score centuries", as he so aptly put it today, Fleming headed to Middlesex for the 2001 season. In averaging 55 in the County Championship, Fleming reached three figures on four occasions, and gave his game the fine-tuning it needed before he arrived in Brisbane for the first Test.

It was a successful mission, and one from which New Zealand cricket has benefited greatly after they thrust Fleming into international cricket at the age of 19. The irony at the present moment is that, owing to their international touring schedule, Fleming's Bangladeshi opponents will not get the same opportunity to develop their games. But at least they do have sympathy from a man who has experienced the same frustrations.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show (www.cricketclub.co.nz).