Cricket's Commanders-in-chief: Stephen Fleming

It’s a tough job, captaining a cricket side. In most team sports, captaincy is merely an honorary title, bestowed upon an experienced player in the side. In cricket however, a captain acquires a much more active role. Matches are won or lost depending on the choices made by the captain; another example of cricket being an individual sport in the garb of a collective endeavour. Cricket has seen some great captains, some controversial, some purely genius. But how good a captain is can never be judged best by the spectators who are unaware of the dressing room chats, after-match team conferences and behind-the-nets preparations. Success can be measured, but success isn’t solely in a captain’s hand. Effort is hard to quantify, but bringing out the best from his team, is the mark of a good captain.

Starting today, Sportskeeda brings to you a list of players who’ve made their name by show of good, sometimes great and extraordinary leadership.

Stephen Fleming

Longevity and success (relatively) – were hallmarks of Stephen Fleming’s time at the helm of New Zealand cricket. At a time when captaincy was traded between players on a monthly or even weekly basis in many countries, Fleming was the rudder guiding an underachieving Kiwi side. When Lee Germon was injured, he was handed the responsibility at the age of 23, and in his words, was ‘overawed’. Though appointed only as a stand-in captain at first, he was eventually handed the permanent job.

Fleming never led a great side. Earlier, he had the charismatic Chris Cairns, but Nathan Astle, Scott Styris, Craig McMillan and Chris Harris didn’t comprise a champion side. Later, the team suffered as Shane Bond oscillated between brilliance and frustration. Daniel Vettori maintained a calm presence meanwhile, growing and learning under the leadership of Fleming. The Kiwi side was very rarely at full strength, and when they were, Fleming extracted the most from them.

His New Zealand took on Naseer Hussain’s England in 1999 and won 2-1. His New Zealand came up against Steve Waugh’s Australia in 2001-02 and drew the test series. His New Zealand defeated India in the 2000 ICC Knockout Trophy and won their only limited over tournament of note to date. That 4-year period was the best under Fleming’s leadership.

“If you walk around thinking you’re a leader, you’re a long way from it.” – Stephen Fleming

He learned a lot from the likes of Astle and Cairns though, who helped him grow into the leadership role. Fleming distinguished between a captain and a leader, and suffered when he was put under pressure due to his failure with the bat. Like his side, he was an underachieving batsman, and it’s your perspective how you look at it – nobody has scored lesser number of hundreds with 7000 ODI (8 centuries) and 8000 Test (9 centuries) runs.

A captain is known by the respect he commands from the team. In 1998/99, when South Africa visited New Zealand, Dion Nash stood in as the captain for injured Stephen Fleming. His attacking captaincy was much appreciated, compared to the unhurried manner of Fleming’s leadership. When pressed for a change in the captaincy by the media, Nash responded by saying, “No way. We can’t wait for Steve to get back and take over again.” There was not an iota of doubt who the true captain of this ship was.

Stephen Fleming the captain of New Zealand keeps a tight grip on the trophy after beating India after the India v New Zealand Final of the ICC Knockout Tournament in 2000.

The captain puts his team before himself, and his innings of 274 against Sri Lanka in 2003, where he selflessly declared before crossing Martin Crowe’s 299 and becoming the first New Zealand to score a triple hundred, is just one of many examples. Though the match was a draw, the effort was not lacking from the captain.

He surpassed Arjuna Ranatunga’s record of 193 matches as captain in 2006, becoming the longest serving captain of that time. He finished with 213 matches as captain, second only to Ponting’s record of 230.

For New Zealand, he was the most successful captain by a long distance. 28 Test victories and 98 ODI conquests came under his watch, more than double the success the next best Kiwi skipper achieved.

He walked away from international cricket in 2008, scoring yet another 50 for his side, before failing to convert it.

Stephen Fleming may not be the best New Zealand cricketer to have graced the game, but under his leadership, the best was milked out of the Kiwis, making them strong contenders against much stronger opponents.

To see the other captains who made this list, click here: 15 Greatest Captains

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Edited by Staff Editor
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