Fleming masterpiece compounds South African misery
A magnificent double hundred from Stephen Fleming has put New Zealand in total command of the second Test at Newlands against South Africa. Fleming's 262, his second-highest in Tests and arguably his finest innings to date, powered his side to an imposing 535 for 9 against a bowling attack which lacked spice and venom.
As beautifully as Fleming played, his effort would not have been possible were it not for an equally excellent contribution from James Franklin - New Zealand's No. 9. Franklin, with a technique not dissimilar to his captain, showed remarkable composure and batted with great maturity and no less class. Their eighth-wicket partnership of 256 took the game away from South Africa, while also smashing the record for any Kiwi stand against South Africa. Supreme though the batsmen were, the South Africans let themselves down - not for the first time this season - with a limp bowling performance, questionable tactics and several missed chances in the field.
The pair came together in the third over of the day when Daniel Vettori mistimed a pull off Dale Steyn. With New Zealand on 279 for 7, their first aim was to reach 300 and possibly 350. However, after negotiating the early overcast conditions, batting became simpler; the bowlers grew weary, and records tumblaed as the pitch flattened out sufficiently to allow Fleming and Franklin to flourish.
Fleming batted with the same elegance and ease of stroke that first brought him international recognition in the 1990s, caressing boundaries rather than clobbering them. He hit prime form in the afternoon session with a selection of glorious drives and cheeky upper cuts. Franklin, despite languishing at No. 9, oozed natural ability, not to mention flair and determination. A left-hander, he had little trouble leaving balls outside his off-stump - throughout the day, South Africa bowled far too wide - and was only ever in difficulty when Makhaya Ntini bounced him. Indeed, one vicious delivery cannoned into his head. Far from unsettling him, the blow he received spurred him on.
With Franklin looking increasingly settled and confident, Fleming opened his shoulders after lunch and brought up his 150 with a clever uppercut down to third-man off Steyn. Not only did this indicate a flattening pitch, and that Fleming was hitting prime form, but also Graeme Smith's inexplicable refusal to post a man down there. Countless times, edges flew wide of third slip, past gully or even over the slips down to the vacant region. Alarmingly, this isn't a new occurrence: commentators have been scratching and shaking their heads all season. Indeed, not even Andre Nel could attract Smith's attention, and he's not short of a word.
As the bowlers tired and the pitch became a dream to bat on, Fleming brought up his double hundred - his third in Tests - receiving applause from each of his opponents and a delighted dressing room. And though he fell to Ashwell Prince, marking the end of the day's play, his innings and partnership with Franklin won't be forgotten in a hurry. With Franklin just seven runs away from his first Test century, but just Jeetan Patel and Chris Martin for company in the morning, Fleming might yet make an overnight declaration. Regardless, his captain's innings has put New Zealand totally in command of this second Test.
Daniel Vettori c Nel b Ntini 11 (279 for 7)
Mis-timed pull to mid-on
Stephen Fleming b Prince 262 (535 for 8)
Dragged it on
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo