Williamson Saves Sixes For Crunch Time
To watch the two Cricket World Cup centurions of the past 48 hours, you might think they were playing different sports, not just different matches. One, from England captain Eoin Morgan, the most belligerent, powerful, extraordinary you’ll see. The other, a match winning 106* by New Zealand’s Kane Williamson was a gritty and hard-working, if not equally mesmerising.
While Morgan’s knock will grab the mainstream headlines – 16 sixes, strike rate of 208, 102 runs scored in maximums – it’s Williamson’s which for anyone that has ever been part of a run chase, or suffered through a tense one as a fan, that will perhaps be held in higher regard.
On a tough pitch, a strong bowling attack, and with a top order that had failed to fire, it was down to Kane and partner Colin de Grandhomme to battle the BlackCaps from the invidious position of 137-5 to their target of 245.
First came the re-build, with Williamson solidifying the effort to get New Zealand out of their hole. Then came the anchor and accumulation, allowing de Grandhomme to muscle his way to 70 from just 47 to take New Zealand in sight of victory.
Of course along the way this was no knock of pure aesthetic perfection from Williamson. Timing was hard to come by. A run out chance catastrophically missed. A caught behind was missed by everyone. The perfection of the innings was in the calmness and execution, right until the death.
When de Grandhomme was dismissed with the score on 228, New Zealand required 14 more for victory from 11 balls. The South African seam duo of Rabada, and Ngidi had pulled their side back into the game after the heroics of Chris Morris earlier in the piece. Now they had number eight Mitchell Santner to target as Kane took a single with nine balls left in the contest.
A dot ball later and you sense Jeremy Coney might be about to have a litter of kittens live on the radio. He sums up the mood of New Zealand supporter and empathetic cricket fans around the world. This one is going to the wire. Nerves are being shredded along with fingernails, except for one man that isn’t all that bothered. The coolest man on the planet.
To meet Kane Williamson is to meet the most unassuming megastar in the world. He wears a continually relaxed look and demeanour that is common place on a Kiwi, but less common on famous sportsman. No outrageous demands, no airs or graces. The greats of any sport are judged on how they perform under the highest pressure. For Kane, at this moment, it seemed as if was chilling over a flat white at a Mount Maunganui coffee shop.
Santner gets off strike to leave Williamson facing the last ball of the penultimate over. All day he has struggled to hit gaps. A man so beautifully adept at finding space has been instead finding fielders, but he won’t panic. Not now. Ngidi delivers a slower ball. Where others might seize the opportunity to swing hard but mistime, Williamson waits. The hardest thing to do is wait. He waits a little longer, dabs, and guides the ball fine of the short third man. Boundary. Four runs. Sweet relief.
Eight required. Six deliveries. The subtext here is that Williamson has reached 96. You sense that personal milestones like centuries are an added bonus for the Tauranga native rather than the number one goal. Team first at all times. If New Zealand can get there through a Santner blitz, Kane will be a happy captain. The number eight smokes the first ball to deep mid-wicket where it’s fielded and now Williamson comes back on strike.
Slower balls have been mighty effective on this Edgbaston wicket, but does Phehlukwayo have a great one in him. He delivers, full, outside off stump, but Williamson has either pre-meditated or just knows intuitively what’s coming. He’s down on one knee and slog-sweeping (we loathe to use the word slog when Williamson bats) over mid-wicket for six. 100 up. Game done.
Just one to win and all that’s left to see is how Kane will finish it. Another dab. Another four. Another ODI century and match winning innings for the New Zealand captain. It hasn’t been the prettiest. The match itself has been old school, more attritional one-day cricket, but Williamson, as the best do, has adapted and overcome.
Morgan hit 16 sixes the previous day against Afghanistan, each hit with more authority and belligerence than the next. The number of sixes in Williamson’s 138 ball vigil? One.
Timing is everything.