Stephen Fleming led New Zealand for a decade from 1996 © Getty Images
Stephen Fleming is New Zealand’s leading run scorer in Tests and ODIs © Getty Images

Stephen Fleming’s legacy as a leader in New Zealand’s cricket history is secure as he led the side with distinction for almost a decade. In a chat with Nishad Pai Vaidya, Fleming looks back at his tenure at the helm and a lot more.

Stephen Fleming is New Zealand’s leading run-scorer in Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs). However, his true legacy lies in his leadership as he showed the path to a New Zealand side with a spirit to take on the world. Though New Zealand weren’t the strongest side, Fleming’s leadership was astute, and helped them script many successful stories in his time at the helm that lasted almost a decade.

In a conversation with CricketCountry, Fleming talks about his captaincy, some of his finest moments and a lot more.

Excerpts:

CricketCountry (CC): This isn’t exactly a time when a cricketer would visit India. What brings you here?

Stephen Fleming (SF): It is a very important time for Education New Zealand. I am an ambassador for Education New Zealand and we have a week of education fairs and a part of my role is to bring a bit of a profile to the campaign because we have got some unbelievable opportunities for students in New Zealand. We are raising awareness in India because we identify it as a place where the middle class sector is searching for their children to be well-educated and compete. We’ve got some education fairs in some main centres, where I also meet school children.

CC: In a country where rugby is the most popular sport, how did you take up cricket?

SF: I played rugby in the winter. We played that in the winter and cricket in the summer. But, I wasn’t a good enough rugby player and cricket was taking over. So, I was able to make a choice.

CC: You became captain in 1996-97, still young at the highest level. How difficult was that for you?

SF: I was still young, full stop! (laughs) In some ways, my naivety helped. I was accepting a role; I didn’t understand the enormity of it. I had a good grip of the young people around me at the time, which grew together and I developed a style that allowed the team and I to explore different ways to do things. We weren’t the most skillful sides around, but we were the best planned because we had to be. We had confidence to try things because we knew that if we did it the traditional way, we wouldn’t be able to compete with the best. So we enjoyed being innovative. In some ways, it was like New Zealand’s way of doing things — try and be innovative, compete and punch beyond our size.

CC: Ricky Ponting mentioned in his book that there were times when captaincy made him so focused on leadership that he couldn’t pay attention to his batting. Did it ever happen with you?

SF: I think so. But, I became conditioned to it though. I would hide behind it at times if I wasn’t batting very well and it got me out of trouble at times. It ebbs and flows. I think if I didn’t have my captaincy, I would have been a better batsman as I would have mentally had more time to put on it and been under more pressure to get runs. Sometimes, captaincy makes you switch off a little bit and not be as good as you should be. I didn’t push myself as much as I would have if I was only batting with the constant need to get runs.

CC: What would you pick as the best time of your captaincy? Would it be the 1999 World Cup, the 274 in Test cricket or the century against South Africa in the 2003 World Cup?

SF: The 1999 series in England was great. It was the first time we really strategized in a precise way. What flowed in the next two-three years was excellent. We once beat Australia in Australia. We didn’t lose at home. That was really good strategy in leadership from the team, not me. They were my best times. The other two (274 and the ton against South Africa) were individual battles and don’t give me as much thrill as leading a team with good strategy and plans come to a fruition.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)