Kane Williamson: Good at heart, great at the game!

Indeed the Kiwis are a sportive lot, led by a charming captain in Kane Williamson!

With sincere efforts the New Zealand team has transformed itself into a potent force.   -  Getty Images

You watch him in the field and he is all grace and dignity. He’s a natural leader of men; the respect for him is spontaneous.

Kane Williamson is not just a batsman of exceptional ability but has, with his typical quiet efficiency, transformed the Kiwis into a potent force.

Yes, nice guys can win.

With the bat, Williamson is one of those rare players who picks the length early and plays the ball late, giving himself more time to execute his shots. He has excellent footwork, balance and a wide range of strokes.

His first innings 89 against India at Wellington’s hallowed Basin Reserve was a quintessential Williamson innings, with lovely drives on either side, interspersed with cuts and pulls.

The ball was seaming around on a greenish pitch but Williamson displayed impeccable judgement around the off-stump. He got behind the line, covered for the movement and was assured in both offence and defence.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with that outstanding former umpire Simon Taufel and he told me about how wonderfully Williamson and New Zealand conducted themselves following a contentious ICC ODI World Cup final last year.

In a remarkable summit clash of fortune swings, New Zealand had done enough at the business end to be adjudged World Champion but then an absurd ICC rule and extreme bad luck snatched the final away from the side.

With the bat, Kane Williamson is one of those rare players who picks the length early and plays the ball late, giving himself more time to execute his shots.   -  AFP

 

Any other team in that situation, with justice denied, could have displayed anger and frustration, leading to an explosive situation.

And the presentation ceremony could have descended into chaos. Subsequently, the Board and the media could have got into the picture, holding the ICC to ransom and vitiating the situation.

Nothing of that sort happened. The Kiwis were disappointed but did not allow the situation to deteriorate. Taufel marvelled at their graciousness. In the eyes of many, New Zealand was the moral winner of the World Cup.

New Zealand’s successes on the world stage are stunning considering it is a nation of close to just five million people. And cricket competes with several sports such as rugby and soccer for attention. So there is not a large talent pool to choose from.

Yet, New Zealand, time after time, produces combative cricketers who punch above their weight.

And they can adapt to conditions. Soon after Australia lost the Test series to Pakistan in the UAE in the 2018-19 season, New Zealand travelled to the Middle East and defeated Pakistan in the Test series.

Hats off, New Zealand!

  • In a November 2011 Test, New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori had asked the umpire to overturn a run-out decision that went against Zimbabwe after he had collided with Malcolm Waller in the lead-up to the dismissal. He went on to win the ICC Spirit of Cricket award for that gesture.
  • After leading his side to victory over South Africa in the 2015 ICC World Cup semifinal, Grant Elliot lent his hand to a dejected Dale Steyn who was lying on the ground.
  • In a June 2015 ODI match against England, the then New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum had asked umpire Steve Davis, standing in his last international match, to lead the players off the field.
  • At the 2019 ICC World Cup, New Zealand players consoled a heartbroken Carlos Brathwaite whose brilliant century went in vain as West Indies lost the match against the Black Caps by five runs.
  • In 2019 during an away series against Sri Lanka, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson spent time with some Lankan fans after knowing that they had brought a birthday cake for him.
  • At the 2020 U-19 World Cup, when West Indies batsman Kirk McKenzie couldn’t walk off the field due to cramps, New Zealand’s Jesse Tashkoff and Joseph Field carried him to the pavilion.

 

Here we enter a territory where New Zealand is very good — planning and execution. The Kiwis simulate the conditions at home before they embark on away campaigns.

This is a side that watches videos of the opposition, finds chinks and comes up with a gameplan to exploit them. And the Kiwis pull off the strategy with precision.

In Tim Southee and Trent Boult, two of the finest swing bowlers in the business, New Zealand has a pace duo that can hurt sides.

The pair, a right-left combination, often makes serious inroads, pitching the ball up and moving it either way. Since Boult is a left-armer the angles are different.

Remarkably, Southee and Boult have bowled in tandem in 28 of New Zealand’s Test victories. The duo is a class act.

This is an extremely smart combination, that uses the crease, bowls from close the stumps or wide of them, mixes up length, and creates the pressure by bowling in partnerships.

Take the Wellington Test for instance. The Kiwi pacemen gave little away, had a strong infield, and the runs dried up. This put the Indians under enormous stress and wickets fell in a heap.

The Kiwi pace attack means business. Here swing specialist Colin de Grandhomme (left) and the newcomer, the all of 6’ 8” Kyle Jamieson, have a word with the senior paceman Trent Boult, the left-armer with infinite variety.   -  Getty Images

 

New Zealand was without Neil Wagner who hustles the batsmen with rather nasty short-pitched deliveries. However, Boult fitted into that role at the Basin Reserve, bouncing the ball at the Indians and picking wickets too.

This is a flexible side with cricketers capable of donning multiple roles. Southee too deliberately bowled short and there was reward for him.

Then there is New Zealand’s find of the summer — Kyle Jamieson. He is 6’8”, gets natural bounce because of his height and probes the batsmen in the corridor.

He pushes the batsmen back because of his bounce and gets wickets by pitching the ball up. Jamieson certainly adds an additional dimension to the New Zealand side.

At home, New Zealand has triumphed in all of its last six series. Strong at home, it is resilient away from it.

The sweeping 2-0 victory over India, ranked No.1 in Tests, confirmed New Zealand's rising stature. The seven-wicket win at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval marked the Kiwis’ complete dominance on seaming pitches with bounce. The surface for the second Test had more pace in it and the host made all the right moves; the pacemen seamed and swung the ball, the short delivery was employed judiciously and the batsmen made runs when it mattered.

Jamieson, the towering seam-bowling all-rounder, is its rising star. The attractive stroke-player Tom Blundell is an opener with a future. And Southee and Boult are for the ages.

In Williamson and the 100-plus Test man Ross Taylor, New Zealand has batsmen who can take on the best of attacks. Taylor has incredible bat speed but also possesses delicate shots such as the late cut.

A lot of things went wrong for New Zealand in the World Cup final last year. But the Williamson-led team accepted it all with quiet dignity.   -  AP

 

Down the order the Kiwis have a natural stroke-maker — he’s a teasing swing bowler with control as well — in Colin de Grandhomme.

And the Kiwis are a brilliant fielding side, making sensational stops, plucking catches out of nowhere.

After the series loss, Indian captain Virat Kolhi said, “We were outplayed. We have to accept that. Unless we address the issues, we would never get over the difficulties we faced here. We cannot live in denial.”

Williamson was typically level-headed in victory. “We thought India would adapt to the conditions better. It is a good side,” he said.

Indeed the Kiwis are a sportive lot, led by a charming captain in Williamson. Nice guys can be winners too!