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Flem's Wanderers' blitz

S Rajesh
New Zealand's captain dazzles South Africa
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Stephen Fleming
134 not out v South Africa, 2003

Going into the must-win game in Johannesburg, New Zealand would have preferred any opponent to South Africa - in their previous 18 match-ups, New Zealand had triumphed exactly once. At the halfway stage of the game, it seemed the stat would soon be reading one in 19 as South Africa piled on 306. At the Bullring, another slaughter was on the cards.

To start the run-chase, out walked Stephen Fleming, whose form certainly wasn't awe-inspiring - only 507 runs in his last 23 matches, at an average of 24. On this night, though, he was unstoppable.

The first glimpse of his magical touch came with the second ball of the second over, when Fleming quite effortlessly deposited Makhaya Ntini for a one-bounce four behind square leg. As the skies over Johannesburg became increasingly dark and angry, Fleming unleashed some fury of his own, carving Shaun Pollock and Ntini over point for fours. A brief power failure did nothing to disrupt him. Fleming greeted Jacques Kallis into the attack with four delectable boundaries in an over, including one swivel-flick off the back foot through wide mid-on - an area he peppered with unerring accuracy time and again.

Two more rain interruptions caused the target to be revised, but Fleming was so firmly ensconced in the zone that it mattered not a jot. When he wasn't standing upright and clipping fours through midwicket - there were nine such gems in the innings - he was creaming drives through the off side, each one a masterpiece of timing, and none of them slogged.

By the time the players came back on after the final rain break, South Africa were so battered and punch-drunk that the match was as good as over. The final blow, fittingly, came from Fleming's willow - a rasping drive through backward point off a hapless Allan Donald.

Not surprisingly, Fleming rated it his best knock, while Nathan Astle, who helped him add 140 for the second wicket, was equally effusive: "It's the best I've seen him play by a long, long way and it was one of the best hundreds I've ever seen. He hit it so sweetly, there were no risks. Everything was coming out of the middle." In terms of the sheer class and quality of strokeplay, it was arguably the finest innings of the 2003 World Cup

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo

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