New Zealand can be called cricket’s real allrounders. World leader in Test match cricket (called red-ball cricket) after beating India in a clash between top two nations, the Kiwis had finished second behind England in the 50-overs-per-side version at the 2019 ICC World Cup. The narrow loss in the Lord’s final on the boundary count back (match score and super over tied) is still hurting. White-ball cricket’s shortest version, the 2021 T20 World Cup in UAE, saw the Black Caps lose to Australia in a first ever ICC final appearance for both nations in 20-20.
Test cricket topper, second best in ODI and T20 competition featuring the world’s best teams in each format, you cannot ask for more from captain Kane Williamson and teammates. Familiar to Indian cricket audiences as the anchor of Sunrisers Hyderabad batting line-up, he has always willingly and whole-heartedly taken responsibility in franchise and international cricket. New Zealand lost the T20 series to India, but will be a different opponent when their calm captain joins the Test squad in time for the Kanpur game against Ajinkya Rahane-led Team India.
Williamson is known to never flinch from a challenge in ICC competitions, as the Aussies realised in the T20 World Cup final at Dubai. Walking out to bat at a critical number three, he constructed a masterpiece knock (three sixers and 10 fours in a 48-ball 85 runs) for the game’s highest individual score. New Zealand’s 172 in 20 overs, batting first, looked defendable. Williamson’s team lost by eight wickets, the fiery top-order Aussie batsmen raced past the target with seven balls to spare. He took a break after the UAE event and is back to familiar Indian conditions for the Test challenge.
Also Read; New Zealand in India Tests, A Brief History
Test cricket gave away to an adventurous version, 60 overs per side initially before restricted to 50. The ODI format opened a door for Asian teams to assert their guile and craft (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka emerged the champion or runner-up in the World Cups, challenging the world’s best). New Zealand kept missing the bus in ICC events, especially when the opponent was Australia, as witnessed in the 2015 World Cup final. India has now emerged as the team to beat, the Kiwis made a point in ODI (2019 World Cup semi-final), five-dayer (2020 World Test Championship), 20:20 (2021 T20 World Cup group game).
Similar to composed MS Dhoni for demeanour under pressure, than the expressive Virat Kohli against whom Williamson competed from the U-19 ranks, he is a cricket superstar unlike any other leader, in cricket whites or multi-coloured clothing. Indian internationals and fans got a close look at the New Zealand great during the IPL, his adaptability as a batsman in any format and the way he behaves as a professional off the pitch can be an example to follow for younger players coming up the ranks. Teammates gain confidence with him around. NZ as a Test squad will be tougher to shake up in the two Tests ahead.
A classic circumstance, for what of a better word, to explain why the Kiwi can be rated as one of cricket’s jewels, happened at the 2019 World Cup final. NZ lost on the boundary count back (17 fours against 26 by England). Williamson won the hearts of followers for his balanced reaction to a bizarre defeat. Both teams scored 241 in 50 overs, the winner could not be decided in the Super Over also (tied at 15 each). Two fielding incidents hurting the Kiwis stand out. Martin Guptill’s attempt to run out Ben Stokes at the striker’s end saw the ball, instead of hitting the stumps, streak to the fence off the diving batter’s blade.
England, equal with NZ on 241, got lucky the second time. NZ caught up with the home team in the Super Over and needing two runs off the final delivery, Guptill was run out going for the second run, unable to scramble back in time to beat Jason Roy’s throw to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. Following the run-out, both sides on 15 each and for the first time a World Cup trophy game was decided on a technical rule.
The Kiwis were shattered, the World Cup was snatched from their grasp, captain Williamson took the loss on the chin and displayed composure instead of bitterness.
The universal respect for the Kiwi captain was reflected in then India coach, Ravi Shastri’s comment, referring to Kane Williamson as ‘Kane and Able’. Kohli will come face to face with Williamson during the second Test at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium. The India captain conveys his hunger to win Test matches against teams crossing India’s path openly, almost stepping over the line in the heat of battle. The former is less in-your-face type, treating victory and defeat with equanimity. Delivering decisive performances at the crease, without allowing leadership to become a burden, is done with pride by both.
To convey Test cricket’s excitement, the skills demanded from its exponents to deal with vagaries of the game and the skills needed to dominate session by session, it is important the one-time U-19 World Cuppers-turned-famous faces in the sport, keep playing many more seasons. Kids addicted to the slam-bang variety, glorified by live TV coverage, need to be made aware about the hard work by Williamson and Kohli over years and years, to polish the batting basics. From a solid foundation of balance at the crease, shot selection know-how and cricketing intelligence, switching from Test cricket to T20 is child’s play, not vice versa.
Williamson’s expertise in adapting batting to the three formats, using a mix of traditional-cum-improvised shots as per the situation, places him among the match-winners. The T20 World Cup final knock at Dubai was just another example of the strides taken by the Kiwi, for whom numbers in Test cricket tell their own story (85 matches, 7230 runs at an average of 53.95, including 24 hundreds and 33 fifties) prior to the Kanpur Test against India. Kohli in Tests (96 matches, 7765 runs averaging 51.08, 27 centuries, 27 half-centuries) is an able competitor, setting his own standards. T20 results have no bearing on Test outcomes, hence the Kiwis may take flight in their captain’s presence. Maybe a better-prepared Team India will take the fight into the rival camp. Anything is possible.