| Stephen Fleming: ĎI am not a great player, but I can be a good oneí
Centurion: Stephen Fleming wasnít yet 24 when he got the New Zealand captaincy in 1996-97. Gradually, of course, the Black Capsí youngest captain has emerged as among the most respected on the circuit, with a handsome 54-plus success percentage in Tests.
Fleming spoke to The Telegraph, exclusively on captaincy, over breakfast Thursday. The half-hour chat, at the Intercontinental Sandton Sun & Towers in Johannesburg, saw him make some fascinating points.
The following are excerpts
On regularly getting accolades for his captaincy
(Smiles) Itís very nice, very flattering... Specially when former captains, whom you respect, have kind words... At the same time, the comments are a reflection on my team... The team allows me to try a few things, enables me to experiment.
On whether the appreciation puts him under pressure
No, because I donít plan and plot to be seen as a good captain... I do so to win matches. I donít try to be innovative to earn accolades, thereís a purpose behind trying something different. (After a pause) In fact, the team is involved in a big way... We collectively think of ways to exploit weaknesses. Very often, then, the ideas come from the players themselves and itís for me to time the implementation right. Indeed, itís very much a timing thing.
On being a democratic captain
Iím an inclusive captain... For me, itís important that the 15th man has as much of a say as anybody else. It allows everybody to have an ownership in the team plans, thereby making for more involvement and satisfaction.
Good question... (After a pause) Much of it has to do with implementing what your team wants, itís about giving direction to a set of ideas... Basically, the team drives the way it wants to play... My job is largely to give direction, get the timing right ó on and off the field.
On off-the-field captaincy
Look, the team decides the disciplines and those must be adhered to. We are very particular about timings... There are other aspects too and I would like to think this discipline has contributed to our on-field success. I adhere to the disciplines as much as anybody else.
On how innovative a captain can be, given that the laws are set in stone and the playing conditions standardised
The team dictates that... I look at the strengths of my side and see how that can be utilised to open up weaknesses in the opposition. I mean, thereís no point having the best plans in the world if I donít have the players to implement them.
On whether he has had a role model captain
Iíve been heavily influenced by my idol, Martin Crowe, who was an innovative captain... He continues to think outside the square, so to say. Then, at different times, Iíve spoken to Ian Chappell and Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh... Iíve tried to pick up a few things but, at the end of the day, Iím my own captain... (After a pause) I canít keep my eyes shut when it comes to techniques adopted by different teams.
On interacting with Steve
He was gracious enough to spend time with me in my early years as captain and, then, we had a chat during our trip to Australia in 2001-2002... He spoke about captaincy and batting and I was an avid listener... I knew I could pick up the odd idea.
On whether he envies any one contemporary
I like comparing teams, not captains. Each captainís style, after all, is dictated to by the team.
On Sourav Ganguly, his Indian counterpart
I appreciate the pressure (driven by expectations) that he is under. Besides that, Iím not going to comment.
On how tough or easy is it captaining New Zealand
Itís easy... My players are better than what they are given credit for... As a team, we are under no illusions, we know what weíve got to do... Stars have to be a bit individualistic to be exceptional and, often, that may not fit into the teamís plans... We donít have to contend with a problem like that... We do, of course, realise weíve got to be at our best every single day.
On New Zealand being the perennial underdogs
Itís frustrating when we do well and thatís projected as the opposition doing badly... Being consistent is one way of proving people wrong... We are working towards that... Weíve already shown we can, on our day, beat anyone. However, let it be clear my team is wholly driven by what it can achieve.
On his approach to a series/tournament
The coaching staff and I view a lot of footage and, invariably, ideas on tackling the opposition get generated. A number of minds thinking alike will surely produce something interesting. Iíve always believed that you donít have to play the same way all the time... That, with slight innovations, you can make it interesting. For instance, weíve adopted the relay-throw, which has proved effective.
On whether it was his idea
(Laughs) Donít remember who actually thought of it, but we experimented at training (during last Septemberís Champions Trophy) and, satisfied with the time taken, decided to adopt that.
On handling the pressures associated with captaincy
On the flip-side, captains get more accolades, the financial rewards are better... So, there are two sides to the captaincy-coin... Being honest is one way of not adding to pressure and, clearly, Iím just that in my dealings.
On whether he reads the Riot Act
The players know when they havenít got their act right... For me, attitude is most important as that dictates performance.
Fielding is a good guide... If the guy at the boundary is simply going through the motions, then he hasnít really switched-on and lacks attitude... Little things count, little acts are a give away...
On leading from the front
Itís important, but not more so than the standards a captain sets. I know Iím not a great player, but do know I can be a good one... It helps if a batsman-captain gets runs as his confidence grows and decision making possibly becomes easier.
On whether he is devastated if a move doesnít come off
No, I look at the next one. Or the third move, or the fourth... I have options, but I also have the belief that my moves can work.
On whether a captain can actually enhance a playerís self-belief
Why not' Moreover, I keep everybody involved so that every single player feels he has a role to play. Everybody takes pride in our success.
On what has he learnt in seven seasons as captain
Learnt to be thick-skinned, learnt to not waver once Iíve decided on a particular move... I wasnít prepared when I got the captaincy (1996-97), but the first few years were a honeymoon... Itís in the last couple of years that expectations have grown, that the hard period has started.
On whether there has been a turning point in his captaincy
(Laughs again) Havenít had one. Instead, Iíve been experiencing a learning curve that, at times, has been steep... I know Iíve got to keep learning, though.
On whether he manages time to unwind
Try to... My golf is pretty okay (eight handicap) and Iím learning the guitar and scuba diving...
Finally, on whether captains have a shelf life
They do, absolutely... A captain knows when the time has come to stop... (After a pause) Iím happy that our selectors have shown so much faith and that Iíve not had to undergo the experience of some captains... Our selectors have been consistent with the team as well.