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November 9, 2008
Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming has predicted that the success of the Indian Premier League and Twenty20 will encourage more youngsters in his country to choose cricket over rugby. He will not be playing for the Chennai Super Kings in next month's Champions League but was hopeful of taking over as the IPL team's coach.
Fleming, who retired in March after 14 years with the New Zealand national team, said that the new riches in the sport suddenly make the life of a professional cricketer a lot more attractive.
"I think with the introduction of the IPL there's now a financial pathway to attract athletes to the game so the All Blacks may not get all the best athletes anymore," he said. "We may start to get a few more coming our way because it's now a career option for a lot of our students in New Zealand."
Fleming, 35, played the last of his 111 Test matches in the home series against England eight months ago but is still wielding his familiar Gunn and Moore bat on the world stage. This weekend, he's been in Hong Kong captaining former international foes Justin Langer, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Sanath Jayasuriya in an All-Stars team in the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes.
He's hoping to stay sharp before playing for Wellington in February's domestic Twenty20 competition followed by the second edition of the IPL, starting in April.
Fleming said he's interested in working as a player-coach for Chennai but nothing was confirmed yet with further discussions due to take place.
"If there's a role as a player-coach, I'm certainly keen to develop that side of things with Chennai," he said. "I love the strategy of the game, I love Twenty20 and how the IPL is bringing cultures and players together.
"But I don't plan on being a national coach or a first-class coach. The IPL is a little bit different as you are bringing players together for a short period of time. There are challenges in that. But it's the sort of competition that I like."
Exploring new business opportunities, Fleming has been dabbling in sports management, representing former team-mates including Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee and James Franklin.
"It's the first step into the business world. I've been meeting a lot of people and seeing what opportunities are around now," he said. "Looking after the players is quite challenging. It's going to take a bit of time but I'm trying to find out who I am and what I want to do."
His involvement with national players means that Fleming has been following the New Zealand team's fortunes more closely than he might otherwise. He's full of praise for new captain Daniel Vettori, who took over the Test reigns a year ago on the tour of South Africa as Fleming remained in the side as a batsman.
"I think Dan's doing very well. He's a world-class player," he said. "Unfortunately we're going through another rebuilding phase, which we always seem to be doing. That's just because of our lack of resources. There is some talent in the side, though."
During the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes, Fleming seemed a model of relaxation as captain of the All-Stars team, keeping wicket, rolling the arm over as a bowler and enjoying the raucous atmosphere at the Kowloon Cricket Club. Even though Fleming hit the winning runs in a six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka, two earlier defeats - including a shock five-wicket loss to Hong Kong - meant that the All Stars were knocked out of the Cup competition on the opening day.
Fleming is happy to play in unique tournaments like the Hong Kong Sixes, slightly removed from the cricketing mainstream, saying that he doesn't miss the intense pressure of the international scene.
"As a Test captain, every word was scrutinised so you had to be very measured about what you said and very guarded," he said. "You couldn't always speak openly because of how it might be construed and what kind of headline you'd wake up to tomorrow.
"Being happy is the key. You go through cricket with a lot of anxiety as you do with any job. But if you can spit out the other side and have a life that's fulfilled and that you're comfortable with, then you'll be a happy man."
Jason Dasey is an international broadcaster and corporate host based in Hong KongFeeds: Jason Dasey
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala