Fleming on the brink of New Zealand cricket history

Lynn McConnell

September 18, 2000

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Stephen Fleming goes into the second Test against Zimbabwe on Tuesday on the brink of becoming New Zealand's most successful Test captain.

Saturday's first Test win in Bulawayo placed him alongside Geoff Howarth with 11 Test victories.

Whether or not Fleming secures the record for himself in Harare, it is inevitable that his final captaincy record is likely to be one of the more outstanding records in New Zealand Test cricket history.

With the potential to play another 10 years at the highest level, if injury and personal motivation keep him interested in the game, all manner of records stand in front of him.

But his success rate in Tests is already high, he's only six Tests short of breaking John R Reid's total of 34 matches as captain, he's already the finest catcher in New Zealand's Test history with 84 and he's fifth on the all-time Test run scoring table.

His 3144 runs lie behind Martin Crowe (5444), John Wright (5334), Bevan Congdon (3448) and John R Reid (3428).

The 27-year-old left-hand batsman Fleming was always regarded as Test captaincy material from the time he made his debut against India in 1993/94.

But the manner in which he was pitched into the job in 1996/97 for the last Test against England when Lee Germon was dropped by the selectors, was not the sort of start that would have been preferred for a 24-year-old.

It wasn't reflected in his showing as New Zealand left England a target of 306 to win which it achieved, but only after one of the more competitive matches in that era.

Interestingly, Howarth faced an even more daunting prospect when he took over the captaincy unexpectedly against the West Indies in 1979/80. He was at least 29 and had several seasons of county experience behind him when previous captain Mark Burgess suffered a hand injury, which forced him out of the West Indies series.

Howarth also had the luxury of a first-up win as leader. Like Fleming he also had a side in the early stages of development, and within a year or two it was one of the more formidable combinations, especially in home conditions.

In his second and third Tests, Fleming led the team to back-to-back Test victories over Sri Lanka. He has also overseen the redevelopment of the New Zealand side as a competitive unit where it has produced comparable results to that of Howarth's side, but without the benefit of a world-class strike force like Sir Richard Hadlee, or the benefit of county cricket among several players.

That highlights the benefit New Zealand has received from its own Brierley Investments Limited Cricket Academy, its use of Australian coach Steve Rixon for three summers and an international programme which has seen a young side flourish.

Much interest has centred on Fleming's batting and his failure to score as many centuries as he is certainly capable of.

But those who argue that the captaincy role may be affecting his batting should compare his batting with Howarth's.

As captain in 28 Test matches, Fleming has scored 1680 runs at 36.52 with a highest score of 174 not out. He's scored one century and 14 50s.

In 30 Tests as captain, Howarth scored 1491 runs, including two centuries and eight 50s at 30.43. His highest score was 147.

Critics could claim that while the pair share the same number of Test victories, Fleming has suffered more Test losses, 10 compared to Howarth's seven.

Where Howarth holds a more complete all-round record as a captain is in his One-Day International captaincy. His individual figures don't stack up but there's no arguing with his better than 50% success rate.

Howarth, leading the side when ODIs were still in their infancy led the side 60 times for 31 victories.

Fleming has led the side in 67 games to the start of this season for 26 wins and 34 losses, with the shortfall made up of tied matches and no results.

But Fleming could point to a greater contribution with the bat. He's scored 1780 runs at 31.79 compared to Howarth's 1124 at 21.62. Fleming's highest score is 116 not out while Howarth's was 76.

New Zealand selection convener Sir Richard Hadlee said he rated Howarth "very highly" as a captain but rated Fleming's effort in matching Howarth as "a significant milestone".

"He stepped into the breach at a young age and his effort has been a credit to himself, his team and New Zealand Cricket," he said.

Fleming's place in New Zealand cricket history is assured. But his final place could be as one of the genuine greats of the New Zealand game.

New Zealand Test victories under Stephen Fleming:

1st Test: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Dunedin, 7-10 Mar 1997
New Zealand won by an innings and 36 runs

2nd Test: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Hamilton, 14-17 Mar 1997
New Zealand won by 120 runs

1st Test: New Zealand v Zimbabwe at Wellington, 19-22 Feb 1998
New Zealand won by 10 wickets

2nd Test: New Zealand v Zimbabwe at Auckland, 26-28 Feb 1998
New Zealand won by an innings and 13 runs

1st Test: Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Colombo (RPS), 27-31 May 1998
New Zealand won by 167 runs

2nd Test: New Zealand v India at Wellington, 26-30 Dec 1998
New Zealand won by 4 wickets

2nd Test: England v New Zealand at Lord's, 22-25 Jul 1999
New Zealand won by 9 wickets

4th Test: England v New Zealand at The Oval, 19-22 Aug 1999
New Zealand won by 83 runs

1st Test: New Zealand v West Indies at Hamilton, 18-22 Dec 1999
New Zealand won by 9 wickets

2nd Test: New Zealand v West Indies at Wellington, 26-29 Dec 1999
New Zealand won by an innings and 105 runs

1st Test: Zimbabwe v New Zealand at Bulawayo, 12-16 Sep 2000
New Zealand won by 7 wickets

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