THE HOLLIES Stand is to Edgbaston what Bay 13 is to the MCG and, perhaps, the North Stand is to Wankhede Stadium. Like Bill Lawry would say, it’s all happening here, always. In addition to being raucous and rowdy, the fans who turn up here are never short of brazen rancour for anything Aussie. It’s also the section of the otherwise sterile setting at Edgbaston where you’ll find locals donning all sorts of fancy-dress costumes, everything from the muppets to the Teletubbies.
On Friday, the Hollies Stand had turned Kiwi. In spirit — and there’s never a shortage of it here — they were all behind Kane Williamson & Co. Not surprising, considering it was the auld enemy — cricketing-wise anyway — that was up against them. For a major part of a day heavily influenced by rain, the Black Caps gave their new-found fans a lot of opportunities to get under the Aussies’ skin, with Williamson adding to his forever-burgeoning fan-club around the world with a silken century.
And even though it was that other feature of Birmingham, the fickle weather that had the final word on the contest, with the match being called off, it was New Zealand who finished with bragging rights. That they would eventually take home a solitary point was, if anything, an unfortunate conclusion, considering they were nearly 25 runs ahead on the Duckworth & Lewis calculation.
The Kiwis are used to being underdogs. But it’s surprising that they should be counted as potential party-poopers for the likes of Australia and England in what is easily the Champions Trophy’s group of death. Their line-up might not contain the kind of batting behemoths like their other two big-name group opponents, but there is no lack of firepower in their ranks.
Luke Ronchi wasn’t a certain starter for New Zealand in the build-up to the event, with Tom Latham having stepped in as a more tepid replacement for Brendon McCullum at the top. But what’s better than having a kamikaze opener setting the tone at the start? Having two of them. And the Aussie fast bowlers—who seemed either rusty like Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, or fatigued like Pat Cummins—didn’t know what hit them once Ronchi started jumping out of the crease and flat-batting them over the in-field. They went short and they went full, but Ronchi kept swinging for the fences. And despite losing Martin Guptill, Ronchi’s 43-ball 65 meant New Zealand had romped to 117 by the 16th over.
Williamson then took over. And as always his runs seemed to come in more genteel fashion, yet at a fair clip. With the English crowd on their feet, he produced a typically pleasing-to-the-eye three-figure knock, riddled with pleasant drives and just for good measure, a few cheeky lap-shots. When the rain came again and reduced the match to a 36-over contest—the first rain-break had already robbed four overs each from either team’s innings—it was the
New Zealand bowlers’ chance to show why they are arguably among the best in the competition, despite not getting their due. But with weather forecasts said to be similar over the weekend, there are already worries that that other big contest pitting two neighbours too will be played under a cloud—a literal and heavy one that’s predicted to affect the match.