The Flem Phenomenon

The second Test between South Africa and New Zealand ended in a rather tame draw. Adversely affected by rain and an easy pitch, the match barely progressed past the half way mark. However, the match was notable in that Stephen Fleming played a landmark innings of 262, at an important time, too.

Who would have imagined that when Vettori fell early on day 2, making the score 7-279, that New Zealand would be declaring on day 3 at 8-593. Stephen Fleming went on to score a rather astonishing 262, Franklin struck another blow for the “number nines”, making 122 not out and the eighth wicket realised 256 runs. Smith was criticised for sending the Kiwis in. However, following the Kiwi late order prosperity, the Boks went on to post over 500, so who knows how many the Kiwis would have made if they batted second.

I’ll tell you why Fleming’s innings was astonishing. It ties in rather well with a rare, silly Cricinfo article of a few days ago. I was going to ignore it but seeing that it is topical, I’ll give it a brief run. Have a look for yourself if you like

In short, it explored examining a batsman’s worth with a calculation that combined both average (the traditional measure) and the standard deviation between average and top score. Something like that anyway. The gist was that a player like Lara props his average up with several huge scores. And at other times he is a non-contributor. Whereas, say, Kallis, has a better average but no really huge scores. And therefore is more consistent. While I see some merit in the point being made, the calculation puts Bradman 8th on the all time list. And that has to be silly. If Kallis makes 300 in his next innings, his average will rise, as will his standard deviation and his rating will fall.

Stephen Fleming has the lowest rating according to the above algorithm of any batsman since 2002 who has made more than 2000 runs. Thus, I am calling it the “Flem rating”. Fleming is an interesting case. He has made just 9 centuries in 101 matches. That’s not too good for a top order batsman. On the other hand, Fleming’s average has been around 40 for a long, ling time. That does indicate reasonable consistency. In fact, has had 50 scores over 50, so he averages a half century every second match. His “Flem rating” is only so low because he has a mammoth score or two to his name. Scores that in 171 innings don’t make very much difference to his average. Well, his top two scores make a difference of over four runs to his average – so maybe the rating isn’t so silly….

Of Fleming’s nine centuries, four are over 190, two over 250. So in his long career, he has a handful of epic innings. I liken this to Stan McCabe, the great Australian batsman of the 1930’s. He is regarded as playing a trilogy of landmark innings. The most famous was the 187 not out in the first bodyline Test. Then there was the 232 in just four hours at Trent Bridge in 1938. McCabe single handedly saved the follow-on and prompted Bradman’s greeting in the dressing room, “Stan, if I could play an innings like that, I would be a proud mad.”. Lesser known is the 189 not out in under three hours at Johannesburg. As Australia hurtled towards a victory target of almost 400, the game was called off because the South African’s – the fielding team – successfully appealed against the light. They were in danger from McCabe’s powerful assault!

Back to Fleming, though I feel it is more glorious to reminisce about McCabe. Fleming has been an astute and inspirational skipper for the Black Caps. I think that it is good that he has some outstanding innings to boast his batting credibility. Forget the Flem rating. And to think, just last week, Keith and I were ready to drop him from the NZ team!