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‘Feeling is pretty hollow’

The 2007 World Cup signalled the end of another era when Stephen Fleming stepped down as New Zealand’s one-day captain after more than a decade at the helm.

Fleming announced his decision after the 81-run defeat in the semi-final against Sri Lanka on Tuesday and said he took the step in a bid to provide “fresh energy” to himself as a batsman. The stylish lefthander said he had arrived at the decision quite some time ago.

“I had made up my mind long time ago though New Zealand Cricket (NZC) wasn’t privy to it as I didn’t want to hamper the preparations for the World Cup,” Fleming, who was largely acclaimed as the most cerebral of contemporary captains, said.

In his over 10 years in charge of New Zealand fortunes, he led in 218 matches with a 98-106 win-loss record.

He wanted to continue as a one-day batsman as well as the Test captain, “if afforded the opportunity.”

“I’m just 34 and I think I’ve still got some good batting years ahead of me,” he added. “So I want to concentrate on that for a while, and put a lot of energy into our Test cricket. In some ways your energy levels are sapped when you captain the side, and I want to play with a fresh mind, and finish off my career with some stats that I think I’m worth.”

Fleming did not see any conflict in New Zealand having separate captains in Tests and one-dayers as he felt with “some fine-tuning and management,” it could deliver the goods.

Fleming’s own suggestion as his successor was left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, 28, who stood in as captain for 11 matches since November 2004, and made his debut as a teenager in the same year that Fleming took over as leader. “I think if you look at the way we’ve groomed Vettori, he’ll certainly come into discussions. But whoever takes over the role, I want to be around to assist for a period of time as well. I’ve no problem sitting back in that role, but it’ll be up to the selectors.

“There’s going to be a lot of change in New Zealand cricket,” added Fleming, pointing out that national coach John Bracewell is out of contract at the end of the month. “It’s probably a bit presumptuous to recommend Daniel, but he’s done a fine job up to this point, and it’s just up to the direction that New Zealand cricket want to take.”

Fleming, who has played 279 one-day Internationals so far, making 8037 runs at an average of 32.41 with 49 fifties and eight hundreds, reflected on his legacy saying he was someone who perhaps “added subtlety in team’s performance though it’s not as much reflected in results.”

“We don’t produce world-class players as readily as perhaps Australia, but we do damn well with what we’ve got,” said Fleming. “To register the amount of semi-finals (five) we’ve had is, I would say, a pretty proud record. We’re disappointed we’ve not gone further, but there are a lot of sides that haven’t made the semis.”

He had no hesitation in confessing that his side had been thoroughly “outclassed” in the semi-final by Sri Lanka.

“Coming into this World Cup, we realised that Australia and Sri Lanka alone are two teams who could give us trouble. We weren’t good in key moments and even though I am proud, I am pretty disappointed that we haven’t taken the next step. The feeling is pretty hollow.

“I obviously dreamed the dream that I’d be lifting the Cup but it wasn’t to be… I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to achieve. It’s been a long time, and professionally I think I’ve done the job well.”

The lefthander believed that Sri Lanka, pure and simply, was a better skilled team than his own.

“Sri Lanka are a more skilful team than us. They have some unusual bowlers and Australia — or South Africa — are good in batting. So it could be a clash of good bowling and fine batting in the final,” he said looking ahead.

Fleming did not think the toss was the major reason for his side coming unstuck in the semi-final. “They can be contributing factors but they don’t determine the outcome of a match.

“For long, I felt the worry in our top order and the problem of bowling in the death overs wouldn’t become an issue. But that wasn’t to be.”

He was all praise for Mahela Jayawardene for the innings he played and the way he handled his team. “He is a fine captain with the right attitude and his innings today was noteworthy,” he said.

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