Fleming's innings of a lifetime provides New Zealand a miracle against South Africa

New Zealand's captain batted sublimely to take his side home in a rain-restricted game

Lynn McConnell
New Zealand batted in a sublime manner, and none more than their captain Stephen Fleming, who truly played the finest innings of his career, as they took a nine-wicket win over South Africa in a remarkable match at the Wanderers ground in Johannesburg.
There were occasional glimpses of exciting development emerging in Fleming's batting during the recent one-day series against India, especially in the last match in Hamilton.
But what emerged in Johannesburg, under absolutely desperate circumstances, was the full flowering of Fleming's abilities as he scored 134 not out off 132 balls, the highest score of his One-Day International career.
The target of 307 was a daunting one, despite the smaller boundaries of the Wanderers and the pitch which certainly tamed the New Zealand bowlers and took much of the sting out of the South Africans.
It was a rain-restricted match, but so well had New Zealand gained their runs that there was every prospect that in a 50-over match they would have been very close, as they had some powerful hitters who were not called upon.
Fleming played shots of authority all around the ground. Initially, he peppered the wide open space in the third man region with safe shots which took full account of the fast outfield, even in the rain that fell at times.
He hit some powerful shots square of the wicket on the leg side, and some remarkable shots through long on and wide mid-wicket off the back foot that were the perfect summation of a batsman in full harmony with his game.
It has been a rare sight for Fleming in recent times but a welcome one and all the more creditable under the circumstances in which it has been scored.
The freedom with which Fleming started the assault was breath-taking. He and opening partner Craig McMillan saw off both Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, having given them both some powerful nudges, and then got stuck into Allan Donald and Jacques Kallis.
The burly Kallis went for four successive fours in his first over. It was all the more impressive for Fleming because the team had just had 15 minutes of interruption for a power cut at the ground and he showed it had no effect on his concentration whatsoever.
While clearly concentrating on his own role, Fleming was also keeping an eye on his team-mates as seen when Nathan Astle came out at 89 for one and went for a single. The throw to the bowler's end hit his bat and carried on for four overthrows.
Umpire Steve Bucknor ruled it a dead ball, but Fleming was straight in discussion with him and a five was then ruled.
Fleming brought up his 50 off 47 balls.
He and Astle soon got working in the same way that McMillan had managed in the opening partnership of 89 at which point McMillan was out for 25 off 32 balls.
When Fleming got to 70 it was his highest World Cup score, 86 was his highest score against South Africa.
And in the 30th over, he brought up his century, the fourth and finest of his career, off 109 balls and including 17 boundaries.
The rains came again soon after and New Zealand were 182 for one wicket with Fleming 104 and Astle on 37 when they left the field.
The game was reduced to a 39-over contest which left New Zealand needing to score 44 off 51 balls.
They only needed 38 balls to do it and to leave the Wanderers' Stadium stunned and wondering how South Africa could lose after scoring 306 runs.
Normally, given South Africa's reputation for having the wood on New Zealand, they could have expected the Kiwis to have rolled over and given the game away. But this is a focused side, and Fleming has been the inspiration as leader.
It was an amazing match from the outset when Graeme Smith was caught off the third ball of the innings only for it to be called a no-ball.
Then Herschelle Gibbs took over in an outstanding innings of 143 off 141 balls. It was hard to imagine how such an innings could be over-shadowed. But Fleming managed that.
The quality of Gibbs' placement, and the power of his hitting, was amazing. He was in complete control while the New Zealand bowlers had nowhere to hide as they took a fearful hammering.
Gibbs, who scored his century off 121 balls, and then put the foot to the floor in scoring his next 43 off 20 balls.
Good support was provided to him by Smith 23 in a 60-run opening stand, Nicky Boje 29 in a 66-run stand and Kallis 33 in a 67-run third wicket stand.
There was some good work done by Scott Styris and Daniel Vettori from the 20th to 35th overs. They pegged back the scoring rate, but both suffered fearfully in their last overs and they suffered runaway inflation to their figures that didn't fully represent the real return in their bowling.
That left the way clear for Gibbs to share more quick runs with Mark Boucher (10), while Pollock (10) and Lance Klusener (33) were able to hit out to get the side over 300 in the last over.
The pitch was outstanding for a one-day match and allowed Fleming and Gibbs to make full use of it for their respective run-scoring feats.
Bowlers on both sides will have their own thoughts on that, because some formidable reputations took a knock, on both sides.