Come Down Under and cheer for India at World Cup 2015: Fleming

Chennai Super Kings coach and former New Zealand cricket captain Stephen Fleming visited the mid-day office in Mumbai to promote NZ tourism

Former New Zealand cricket captain Stephen Fleming strode into the mid-day editorial office yesterday (Friday) evening, with his small team (not the cricket XI) as part of an initiative to promote New Zealand tourism.

After hitting a few lofted shots, Fleming celebrated by raising his bat as he punched the air. Pics/ Bipin Kokate
After hitting a few lofted shots, Fleming celebrated by raising his bat as he punched the air. Pics/ Bipin Kokate

Towering over most in the newsroom, Stephen (41), as people addressed him, on an instant comfort level with the affable athlete, struck a rapport with the journalists thanks to his easy-going style.

With the bat, Fleming was formidable as he took on our bowlers
With the bat, Fleming was formidable as he took on our bowlers

He first stopped at the soft board near the conference table in the centre of the news room, expressing interest in the photographs pinned on to the board. He then sat at the conference table and broke the ice immediately, looking at a collage of pictures and newspaper cuttings on the wall of the office.

Fleming autographs a cricket bat
Fleming autographs a cricket bat

“Are those from the Mumbai terror attacks?" he asked pointing to a picture while referring to 26/11. He looked interested as the journalists told him about Mumbai's big flood in 2005 which claimed many lives.

While  journalists asked questions, Fleming  listened keenly and answered facing bouncers and googlies with aplomb
While  journalists asked questions, Fleming  listened keenly and answered facing bouncers and googlies with aplomb

As part of Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL), India has seeped into Fleming. He is here to woo Indians to visit NZ in 2015, and “cheer India in the cricket World Cup, which is less than 100 days away,” he stated. The 2015 cricket World Cup will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Stephen Fleming greets mid-day MD & CEO, Vikas Joshi. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Stephen Fleming greets mid-day MD & CEO, Vikas Joshi. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

When he was given a copy of Friday’s edition, like a true sportsman he turned to the back of the paper, and smiled at something the sports section had on the pages. He said to his compatriots, “I really love the size of this paper,” while they agreed.

The former Kiwi captain is pointing to something on the sports pages
The former Kiwi captain is pointing to something on the sports pages

When mid-day group sports editor, Clayton Murzello informed him that former India cricket coach, Kiwi, John Wright was in this office to choose pictures for his book, Stephen said, “really? He lives one street away from me in Christchurch (NZ).”

Winners of the mid-day Read and Win contest, which was  related to New Zealand, pose with Stephen Fleming. From left to right: Cyrus, Agnel, Harsh, Vipul and Mohan
Winners of the mid-day Read and Win contest, which was  related to New Zealand, pose with Stephen Fleming. From left to right: Cyrus, Agnel, Harsh, Vipul and Mohan

Explaining his mission he said, “There has been a delegation of representatives from at least 15 companies to increase trade between NZ and India. Tourism is a big part of this visit. The message I want to give Indians is to come to NZ and cheer for your team during the 2015 World Cup. There are India games taking place in Christchurch.

What the NZ Govt. has done, is say that you do not need a separate visa for NZ, if you have one for Australia for the World Cup. It is a collaboration with our co-hosts Australia.”

Stephen also raised a few laughs when he stated that “Indian fans are quick to criticise the team when they play badly overseas, but, they should go overseas too, to cheer for them and give them support. They are the world champions and fans should be egging them on, to do a repeat, like Australia did in 2003 and 2007.”

Having stressed that one does not need a separate visa for NZ if you have one for Australia for the World Cup, Stephen did say that, “We are hoping though that tourists consider NZ as a main destination, and not just as an add-on to Australia, which is often the case.”

The cricketer also added that India-NZ have some similarities, “English is spoken in NZ, there is no language problem for tourists and in fact, Hindi now, is the fourth most common language in NZ” he said to surprised looks, indicating how the Indian presence in NZ had grown.

When there are journalists, there have to be questions and the left-hand bat answered a mix of cricket, Bollywood and tourism questions with the same deftness he showed on the field.

In response to a question about India’s fortunes in the 2015 World Cup he stated, “The Australia tour (the team play Australia in a Test series in November) is going to be a huge advantage. It is great because they are going to be exposed to conditions that will be similar to the World Cup next year.”

Rated as one of the best cricket captains in the world, Stephen said about captaincy, “It made me learn a lot about myself. Selectors must also realise that they may not get the best out of the captain in one or two years, but three, four, five or six years.

It is not a short-term plan and it is best to have a back up leadership ready. I must also state that a captain is helped by very strong leaders below him. I can say that they were certainly influential in my decision making,” he explained giving them credit.

The IPL
To another question about the richie-rich IPL, and how does one ensure that youngsters stay grounded he stated, “It is difficult. These young guys have talent, opportunity, money, it is like a drug, intoxicating.

Why would they be grounded? But, seniors can set an example by humility and showing equality in the team. In India, players are grounded to an extent, because they have strong family values. There is also great stress on education over here.”

He carted a question about discipline to the fence when he said in a sense that players had better beware because social media is watching. “Discipline is big on and off the field. If they get into any mischief off the field, it is now reported. Earlier, it was resolved within the team. Not so, anymore.”

When it is cricket, it is impossible that in India, a discussion doesn’t throw up the name of Sachin Tendulkar. This one did, and Stephen said the biggest factor about Sachin was his “mental strength.” Talking about the higher standards of fitness now, Stephen stated that if earlier Indian fielding was sometimes laughed at, today, “It is great, and in Suresh Raina you have one of the best in the world.”

As the half-hour session wound down, Stephen fielded lighter questions about Bollywood, “I have seen Chennai Express” and said, “NZ offers stunning locales for film shooting. The government has pursued the industry, we offer a peaceful shooting experience.”

Wrapping up the session Stephen said he was enjoying India much more as a “coach” now, “rather than a player, where we did not have time to see the country and there were a number of restrictions, because of security and other issues.”

He then signed off, “I enjoy showing India off,” as he got on to real, literal signing, autographing an array of miniature bats. He then played a few minutes of cricket with the mid-day staff, batting with impressive abandon in the space behind the office building, lofting a few and executing some silken drives.

When somebody murmured that they were scared Stephen might break one of the glass windows of the building, another answered, “So what? We will tell him to autograph the broken window as a souvenir that he was here.” That statement summed up a peppy, interesting afternoon with Stephen Fleming, spiked with his philosophy and his ‘Visit New Zealand’ flair.

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