Cricket: Fleming delivers knockout blow

By Dylan Cleaver

Stephen Fleming will call time on his international career next month, with the third test at Napier to be his last match for New Zealand.

The stylish left-hander was to have made the tour to England his final series but two sources told the Herald on Sunday the chances of that happening were close to zero.

Fleming's wife, Kelly, is expecting their second child in June, and there is also bound to be some lingering resentment at the way he was shunted out of the test captaincy.

Fleming, who will play for Wellington in the State Shield today and who was commentating for Sky yesterday, was non-committal when approached yesterday, saying he would prefer not to comment at this stage.

He will likely take the line that he is approaching the rest of his career as one series at a time. It is also understood he wants little fanfare to mark the end of his excellent career, which is another reason he won't be making any pronouncements until near the end of the series.

But the news will come as another body blow to New Zealand's short-term test chances. Fleming holds most New Zealand records batting, longevity and catching. He has played the most tests (108), scored the most runs (6875), has captained his country to the most wins (28) and has taken the most catches (166).

This final series against the English would give him the chance to tie up some career loose ends. A mere 125 more runs will give him 7000 test runs, a feat achieved by only 31 others. Martin Crowe is the next highest New Zealander at 5444.

Fleming's first test century came against England at Eden Park. Another century against the English would give him 10, still insufficient for a batsman of his class and with 52 scores of more than 50, but 10 looks so much better than nine.

An excellent series would also see him push past the 40-run average barrier, the unofficial mark that separates the good test batsmen from the very good.

The chase for these sorts of statistics will not be motivation enough, however, to see him carry on past this home summer.

Fleming has signed the second-most lucrative contract to play in the embryonic Indian Premier league after coming close to signing with the "rebel" Indian Cricket League. His foray into the Sky commentary box also signals a tailor-made career after cricket.

The news could not come at a worse time for the New Zealand selectors, who are forced to contemplate a tour to England without Fleming, Shane Bond, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan and, for the tests at least, Scott Styris.

Andre Adams, like Styris on the outer anyway, will also be unavailable once his ICL contract is finalised, possibly within the week.

With this cleanout of experience - there are 183 tests in that list alone - there is bound to be some gentle arm-twisting of Fleming in the next few weeks.

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