A fitting end for Fleming

“Ruing this series” was Stephen Fleming’s comment after his last test innings for NZ saw him post 66. The former NZ captain retires from test cricket after a delayed fit of pique at his sacking as captain, to allow the long-groomed Daniel Vettori to take over.

While several NZ commentators rue Fleming leaving NZ while clearly still one of the better batsmen available, it was ironic that the last innings should see Fleming fall on a trademark score of 66 to spin bowler Monty Panesar; many of Fleming’s innings have ended in the mid-twenties or mid-sixties when he loses concentration after ‘getting set’ or ‘posting his half century’. This accounts for just 8% of his innings tallying to 90 or more.

However, there is no doubt NZ’s selectors will not enjoy trying to find a decent replacement. With his average just getting over the 40 threshold (by 13 runs!), Fleming will be a loss in the batting lineup, particularly overseas where he averages nearly 46.

However, this high offshore average compared to the 33.87 average Fleming had on NZ pitches, hints at the nature of his scores. Beating up perennial losers Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka when they were relative newcomers to test cricket account for his highest scores, and are the only nations against which he averages 50 or more. It was notable that the 2 teams he had lowest average (of 25 and 32) and strike rate (of 40.81 and 40.73) against were world champion side Australia and star studded India. He will also be irked at being the sole test batsmen to get over 7000 runs but not post 10 test centuries…

Despite this, Stephen Fleming brought a solid contribution with the bat on a regular basis. If this sounds like faint praise, it is not. Recall Mark Richardson was lauded for just such a contribution, despite a strike rate worse (37.66) than Fleming’s rate of 45.82. More telling, Fleming’s last season has seen him average nearly 50, which he only topped in 1998, 2004 and 2005/06 (and 2003 where he posted his top score of 274* on tour against Sri Lanka). So he appeared to have plenty of runs in the tank.

One wonders if selector Sir Richard Hadlee quit because of the troubles he foresaw in trying to replace the vast number of players who have quit NZ cricket?

It did irritate to hear Fleming lauded for his weaknesses though. Making a virtue of necessity, Fleming’s sloth-like speed in the field was transformed to a soft pair of hands in the slips (where he was good off quick bowlers). Add to this his reputed ‘great’ captaincy skills (his record does not back this claim, with 28 wins from 80 captained he won just 35% – by contrast, the truly great Australian skipper Steve Waugh won in 51% of his tests)).

 Either way, NZ can survive ‘post-Flem’ if there is no panicked rush of under-19 players into the national team… (think Daniel Flynn, Tim Southee, and the slightly older Jesse Ryder if he can heal, and leave the nurses alone!)

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2 Responses to “A fitting end for Fleming”

  1. mishri Says:

    Very cool post–you haven’t taken the familiar route of deifying Fleming, as he retires. Especially interesting to see his stats broken down by domestic v overseas.

    I disagree with your stance on his captaincy though. Fleming had a much lower win rate than Waugh because he had much fewer resources to work with than Waugh did. A captain’s only as good as his players, and it’s obvious that Fleming had maybe half the resources that Waugh did in terms of high-quality test bowlers and batsmen. Still, Fleming was a brilliant tactician– remember the tour of 2001 (or was it 2002?) when NZ went to Australia, and nearly beat the Aussies ? That mostly happened because of Flem’s tactical brilliance. His field placings to Langer were especially sharp.

  2. squaredrive Says:

    Perhaps on the captaincy, Mishri – at least you provide argument to back your claim. That is my key complaint on media comments about Fleming’s captaincy skills – they never back their comments up with facts.

    I would note Fleming had the greatest pool of talent any NZ side has mustered (Chris Cairns, Dion Nash, Geoff Allott, Chris Harris, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Daniel Vettori, etc) during his time. Not as strong as Australia, but when Shane Bond came in it gave Flem enough to take it to the Ozzies. He did outhink the Ozzies on preplaned tactics against certain batsmen like Langer, but thinking on the field was never a strong point for Flem.

    One strange thing – Fleming never seemed comfortable setting fields for left hand bowlers (Vettori, Allott, Shayne O’Connor, James Franklin), despite Flem being a southpaw himself. Flem always seemed to make changes a couple of overs too late. Interested in any thoughts on that…

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