Stephen Fleming has bid adieu as a New Zealand cricketer and captain, when he could have played - always a tricky choice - and when old enough to decide he had had enough. He would have had a major role in enabling his successor, left-arm spinner, Daniel Vettori - a man after his heart and temperament - to take over with no questions asked.
One will always remember Fleming as the modern role model as captain, even with Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting on the scene, as he matched wits and tactical skills, despite lacking top quality resources, which has always been the history of his country's cricket.
There have been exceptional individuals of course, batsmen, bowlers and wicketkeepers. New Zealand, like its closest neighbour, Australia has produced athletic citizens, and this has to do with their interest in the outdoors. Without a population to worry about - there are certainly more sheep if not deer than people - life is comfortable for most and the climate sport friendly.
Temperamentally they are mostly easy-going and not too ambitious. Sure, Fleming is a product of such an environment, it did come about as a remarkable surprise how quickly he developed into a man of the world. But for this, he is indebted to a changing game like cricket, and especially because of the ready and mostly frenetic demands from various quarters.
His predecessor, the wicketkeeper-batsman, Lee Germon brought a team to India that had in its ranks, that hugely talented batsman, Martin Crowe and was managed by Glenn Turner one of that country's most prolific run scorers, but who was peskiness-personified. Ian Smith, that fine Kiwi wicketkeeper, who was on the media team, observed wryly, "The moment they made Glenn the manager, they were asking for trouble." He should have known better than most.
Fleming was a younger and quiet member of the party. It could be an exaggeration to state that he neither could be heard nor seen. But, few sensed that this reticent personality was watching and learning about team management and different temperaments. Much as there was criticism of Turn er's autocratic ways, there is reason to believe that he was the one to spot the captain in Fleming, who must have reminded him of his own first captain, that erudite chartered accountant, Graham Dowling. Dowling never made a fuss and got his way.
Later, he had a pivotal role in New Zealand's cricket administration. Fleming got the nod after having made his debut against India in Hamilton in 1994, as a lefthand batsman who was highly regarded. The fact that the country had never possessed an outstanding captain would not have eluded Fleming's attention.
True with Turner, Sir Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe there were world class stars, but the bench strength was never quite there, considering the limitations of the country's domestic cricket.
The most gifted of New Zealand's cricketers in Fleming's tenure as captain was the mercurial all-rounder, Chris Cairns, son of one of the biggest and hardest strikers of a cricket ball in the history of the game. On Germon's team's tour to India, the young Cairns revealed his potential, but behaved like a recently caged wild animal.
There is a possibility that there was a remark to this effect in Turner's tour report. Fleming's master stroke was to win the confidence of Cairns and it would be interesting to know how exactly he went about it. Maybe one would have to wait for an authorised biography or an autobiography of Fleming's for the inside story. The new captain understood that his all-rounder needed space, to cope, to express himself and faith.
Republished with permission from The Asian Age