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Fleming dominates opening day
27 Apr 2006
By: Richard Edmunds

On a day on which neither side clearly gained an advantage, it was an individual effort for which the first day of the second test between South Africa and New Zealand in Cape Town will be remembered. And that individual effort was provided by New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, whose magnificent century was a remarkable display of quality strokeplay. But with only one other batsman reaching 50, the New Zealanders were unable to gain the ascendancy on a day with a number of momentum shifts.

When the referee called tails and the captains shook hands, most expected Graeme Smith to elect to bat. It is, after all, the choice made by every toss-winning captain in tests at Newlands in the last 78 years. But not today. Smith decided to have a bowl. With the New Zealanders likely still suffering nightmares about Makhaya Ntini from the first test, it's not hard to see why. But this time New Zealand didn't crumble or collapse. Today, Michael Papps and Peter Fulton gave the visitors what they've been missing in almost every match in recent memory - a solid opening partnership. Although there were some excellent balls bowled, some beating the batsmen altogether, they played sensibly and confidently and struck the ball well.

They comfortably survived the first hour, a remarkable feat in itself considering the recent efforts of the New Zealand top order, and registered a half-century opening stand, New Zealand's first in seven matches. But 50 was all they were going to get, a poorly judged leave by Papps resulting in one of his stumps lying several metres behind the pitch and Andre Nel jubilantly celebrating. But his 22 had given the New Zealanders the start they needed.

Fleming's innings began at the fall of Papps's wicket when he came out to join Fulton, who played some excellent shots as he moved through to 36 before falling immediately after lunch to a superb catch by wicketkeeper Mark Boucher off the bowling of Dale Steyn. When Scott Styris followed for 11, after a torrid time against Ntini which included a nasty blow to the head, the score was 82-3 and looking slightly shaky again.

Fleming and Astle, as they have so often done before, were given the task of getting the innings back on track after the innings had moved from being in a comfortable position to being in a slightly troublesome one. They had their share of luck, Fleming an lbw appeal and Astle an undeniable edge through to Boucher, but on they went, playing some impressive strokes and pushing the score along at a good rate.

The partnership quickly passed fifty and headed towards triple figures as the two batsmen both played increasingly fluently. The individual milestones followed, Stephen Fleming bringing up his fifty from 109 balls. It was an excellent innings from Fleming, who struggled a bit early on but worked very hard and grew more and more comfortable with every ball he faced. And soon after the tea break he was joined in the fifties by his partner Nathan Astle, his coming from a much quicker 69 balls.

But he didn't add to his score before being given lbw to Ntini, a ball that was almost certainly missing leg and so evened it up after the caught behind shout earlier in the day. His fifty runs had been vital however and the 106 run partnership with the captain got the innings into an excellent position for New Zealand's normally reliable middle to lower order to capitalise on.

Jacob Oram, the hero of the first innings at Centurion, walked out to bat with the score at 188-4. His job early on in his innings was to support Fleming, who was certainly in and playing some excellent shots. One of the highlights of the day was the fascinating contest between him and Nicky Boje, who was getting remarkable turn for the first day of a test match. Boje beat Fleming with some excellent balls, and Fleming answered with a number of impressive boundaries all around the ground.

Oram quietly moved through to double figures as Fleming entered the eighties and then the nineties, the partnership reaching 40 while Oram's score sat on five. Although he treated the good balls with respect and patience, when bad balls were bowled Fleming attacked them spectacularly and mercilessly without losing the elegance for which he is known.

Oram, having comfortably survived a couple of hostile overs from Nel found himself run out from the first ball he faced from Smith. A mix up saw the two batsmen almost at the same end, and Smith easily dislodged the bails while Oram was still in the middle of the pitch, he was out for 13 and the score was 237-5.

Brendon McCullum announced his arrival at the crease with a powerful cover drive for four, and in the next over Fleming tried to do the same to bring up his century but badly mistimed a poor full toss from Smith. The ball gently lobbed up in the air, looked briefly like it was going to be caught at mid off and bring an end to yet another ninety-something innings from Fleming, but it just cleared the fielder's head and ran away for four to bring up a well-deserved ninth test century for the New Zealand captain.

It was looking like New Zealand would end the day with the advantage, but Ntini was brought back into the attack and immediately struck, trapping McCullum lbw for 5, although again in slightly doubtful fashion, and making the score 257-6.

Not long afterwards the light was offered and Daniel Vettori and a tired Stephen Fleming gladly accepted. Leading the players off the field and being congratulated by the South Africans, Stephen Fleming was undeniably the star of the day. He will resume tomorrow morning on 114 after an even and fascinating day of cricket.

New Zealand 265-6
Stephen Fleming 114*, Nathan Astle 50
Makhaya Ntini 3-65, Dale Steyn 1-37

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