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Fleming special helps New Zealand romp home

New Zealand 259 for 3 (Fleming 115*, Marshall 64) beat Pakistan 255 for 9 (Saleem Elahi 80, Abdul Razzaq 50*) by 7 wickets
Scorecard

Stephen Fleming unveiled a special innings as he steered New Zealand home by seven wickets in the third one-dayer at Christchurch. Fleming finished with 115 not out, and shared a vital 148-run partnership with Hamish Marshall, who made a fine 64, as New Zealand won with 22 balls to spare. They now lead the five-match series 2-1. Pakistan had earlier made 255, thanks mainly to contrasting half-centuries from Saleem Elahi and Abdul Razzaq.

Fleming's effort had shades of that magnificent century against South Africa in a thrilling encounter at last year's World Cup. Though this was not such a big stage, the intensity was apparent. And this was in front of his home crowd, and his family. He served up some sumptuous dishes: the pendulum-smooth on-drive, the crisp square-drive, and the slapped pull. After losing Craig Cumming early on (10 for 1), he hogged the strike, for a considerable period, as Marshall was reduced to a mere spectator. The bowlers played into his hands by spraying it a bit wide. The flicks raced away, and Fleming's fifty came up in 48 balls.

Fearlessness gave way to maturity soon after. He milked the bowling and rotated the strike much more. Marshall found his feet, and more importantly his wrists, and he whipped a few boundaries to the leg side. Barring Shoaib Akhtar, the rest of the bowlers were unpenetrative, and the partnership blossomed to put New Zealand in a comfortable position.

Marshall fell in the 30th over as he lap-swept Shoaib Malik round the corner and found Mohammad Sami gobbling up the chance (158 for 2). Scott Styris added 30 with Fleming before Akhtar got one to swing late and splayed his stumps (188 for 3). But today was not about one of those rapid collapses. It was about Fleming, and he suddenly erupted in the 42nd over when he pulled Razzaq to the midwicket fence. Craig McMillan lofted a few over the infield and New Zealand romped home with great ease.

All three matches of this series so far have been won by the team batting second. But there has been a familiar pattern with regard to the team batting first. Get off to a good start, stumble, and then somehow manage a tremendous recovery. Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat scripted the first part of the plan with some aplomb. Farhat brought out the on-drive with stinging ferocity. Hameed preferred the covers, and pierced the gaps with regularity. But the second part of the story followed the script, and Farhat lost his cool. He charged down the pitch to Kyle Mills and attempted a mighty hoick only to nick it to Brendon McCullum (50 for 1).

New Zealand clawed back into the game with the introduction of Jacob Oram, who bowled a disciplined spell. In the 15th over he dug one in short and Hameed was done in by the extra bounce as Styris pouched the top edge (72 for 2). Yousuf Youhana joined Elahi, and their partnership was based on some quick running. They were helped by some ragged fielding, including two dropped catches by Marshall and McCullum. Youhana's luck finally ran out as he was beaten by a direct hit from Cumming (144 for 3). Elahi carried on the good work and provided the middle-order stability that was needed. Amid nudging and pushing, he also landed some effective punches and found the square boundaries with ease.

Daryl Tuffey then snapped up two quick wickets: Inzamam-ul-Haq edged to the wicketkeeper while Shoaib Malik glided the ball straight into Fleming's handsat first slip for his 100th one-day catch (152 for 5). Moin Khan and Elahi fell soon after (190 for 7), and part three of the usual story was about to unfold.

Unfold it did in the 46th over. The first ball was short and wide, and Razzaq deposited it in the point fence, as if dumping it into a garbage bin. He then swatted the next ball over midwicket for six, and finished off the over with a crisp straight four past the bowler.

For the next few overs yorkers and short balls were attempted, but Razzaq was willing to wait. He didn't even try to improvise. He just stood with an open stance, similar to a baseball slugger, and waited for the ball to land in the slot. And there were many which he found at hittable range. The last five overs cost 57, including a gigantic six over long-on and another walloped over backward square leg. Razzaq's fifty came of just 26 balls. It was a clinical exhibition of late-over slogging. However, it could only complete the familiar script - and failed to be a matchwinning knock.