Calm and collected, Stephen Fleming is widely regarded as one of the best captains to have led the New Zealand cricket team. He was also one of the youngest captains, having captained his side when he was just 23, defying the logic that experience matters. The 41-year-old was also New Zealand’s second-most capped player with 111 test appearances that also made him the longest serving and most successful captain, though he could never take his team to a World Cup final. “This time, it will be home advantage for us and maybe New Zealand will taste victory at the 2015 World Cup to be held at Australia and New Zealand,” he begins on the sidelines of a New Zealand Education Fair held in Chennai on August 24, for which Stephen is the brand ambassador.
When told that his astute technical abilities on the field are still being spoken about, Stephen smiles and says, “As a captain, it was all about using the resources at hand for me. I knew that the boys and I didn’t have the talent of, say, South Africa, but my motto was always to research well about the opponents, their strengths and weaknesses, read about averages, percentages and other data, analyse the pitch and the conditions and, in short, get the job done.” With a victory over Zimbabwe in 2000, it was announced to the world that Stephen was New Zealand’s most successful captain, a feat which was not matched by his successor Daniel Vettori or the current captain Brendon McCullum. Stepping down as Kiwi captain in 2007, he ended with a career-best tally of 218 games as captain with 98 wins and 106 losses. Despite MS Dhoni coming under fire for the Indian team’s disastrous performance at England recently, Stephen rates him as one of the finest captains around.
Much like former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, the statistics didn’t speak for Stephen but his captaincy prowess did. Making his debut in March 1994 at Hamilton against India, Stephen scored 92 walking in to bat at 5. In February 1997, Stephen took the captaincy mantle from Lee Germon for a short while and was soon officially announced as full-time skipper. The humble present coach of the IPL Chennai Super Kings team says, “Most of the credit goes to my team which helped me try out different strategies. For me, leadership was all about devising strategies and I had the freedom to try new things. Effective communication is also a key to success. For example, I used to have a particular person in mind, say Damien Martyn, and tell my fielder where exactly to position himself so that we could scalp the opponent.” It goes without saying that Stephen applied the same strategy for himself as he was well known for his slip catches.
The flamboyant left-hander credits his captaincy skills to the education he had. “Briefly I had worked as a teacher too and this helped me in strategy and communication. With players hogging the limelight as early as 16 or 17 especially in the subcontinents, my advice is to balance sport and academics as you have to not just grow as a player but as a person too,” he says.
Stephen retired in March 2008 and is now devoting his time between India and New Zealand for his commitments to CSK and New Zealand education. He is married to Kelly Payne and the couple has three children.