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Sunday, July 22, 2018

India vs New Zealand, 3rd ODI: Paging captain Kane Williamson

After scores of six and three, time for Kiwi run-machine Kane Williamson to lead from the front in Sunday’s series decider.

Written by Vishal Menon | Kanpur | Updated: October 29, 2017 8:52:59 am
India vs New Zealand, Kane Williamson, Williamson New Zealand, Virat Kohli, New Zealand tour of India 2017, sports news, cricket, Indian Express Kane Williamson has scored nine runs in the ongoing series against India. (Source: PTI)

AS YOU make your way past the security officials at Kanpur’s Green Park Stadium to watch New Zealand’s practice session, you are greeted by the sheer aural chaos Colin de Grandhomme’s bat is generating. Grandhomme is a muscular man, known for his big-hitting prowess in international cricket. You don’t just see his batting, you also get to hear it. Not far away from the Grandhomme’s cacophony is Kane Williamson. Lightly strapped, he is quietly taking throwdowns from a member of the team’s support staff. Williamson is, in many ways, the antithesis to the burly Grandhomme. If Grandhomme personifies brute force and aggression, Williamson is an epitome of elegance and artistry.

Add ice-cool temperament and technical brilliance to these traits, and you have one of the most prolific batsmen in contemporary cricket. Since his debut in 2010, Williamson has amassed runs across the globe, and is considered to be the gold standard of contemporary batsmanship. At present, he is just behind Ross Taylor and Nathan Astle in the list of the most number of international centuries by a New Zealander. Even the weight of captaincy has not diminished the 27-year-old’s productivity one bit. His template to captaincy emanates largely from his own batting style, which is based on uncluttered thinking.

“From my perspective, I am trying to do best job I can. It is important to come up with sound gameplans, execute them well, which we have done till this point. I think as a group, it’s been nice to see through the transition, bringing the team together, continuing to grow,” he once said about captaincy. Time and again, he has led from the front, allowing his bat to do the talking.

Even during New Zealand’s ill-fated Champions Trophy campaign in June this year (they bowed out in the group stage after three straight losses), he was their highest run-getter with a century and two fifties. For a man with such staggering records in international cricket, Williamson has been rather subdued in the ongoing three-match ODI series against India. Scores of six and three in the two fixtures serve a grim reminder of his tepid run. In the first ODI, he was conned by a Kuldeep Yadav googly, and then got rapped on his pads in front by Jasprit Bumrah in the second ODI. His ardent fan would argue that these two failures were nothing more than just a minor blip in an otherwise storied career.

The ongoing three-match ODI series between India and New Zealand was hyped up as a contest between the two incumbent captains — Kohli and Williamson. There are a lot of similarities between the two. Like Williamson, Kohli is the pillar in India’s top-order, achieving incredible success across formats in the last four years. As a captain, he has led his young team with considerable flair and gumption.

Modern day cricketers
Both Kohli and Williamson are prime examples of modern day cricketers. In this day and age of T20 cricket and outlandish hitting, these two have remained prolific by not sacrificing on their technique. Consequently, their batting records get compared, and both are often spoken of in the same breath. Unlike Williamson, Kohli has had two very productive outings in the series. His century in the opening game at the Wankhede Stadium, was by no means his best. But amid Mumbai’s energy-sapping conditions, he held fort to score his 31st ODI ton. Kohli’s red-hot form this series would only exaggerate Williamson’s twin failures.

For New Zealand, this series was not about Williamson’s barren run alone. The emergence of Tom Latham, New Zealand’s young wicket-keeper batsman, is their biggest takeaway from this series. His match-winning century in Mumbai helped the Kiwis take a crucial 1-0 lead. Others like de Grandhomme and even someone as unpredictable as Ross Taylor have come good for New Zealand.

However, it’s the misfiring Williamson at the top order which seems to be an aberration. He was categorical on some of his team’s teething issues after New Zealand’s loss in the second ODI in Pune.”We weren’t good enough at the top, India’s opening bowlers were very very well, hit the mark, the length on that surface. There’s a lesson there for us. We know we have to play a lot better to beat these guys,” Williamson explained.

With the series locked at 1-1, the stage is set for a thrilling finale at Green Park. Most expect India to upstage the industrious visitors. Even the numbers are heavily stacked against them. To put things in perspective, New Zealand have never beaten India in a bilateral ODI series in India. They came close last year in the five-match series. But in the series decider at Vishakhapatnam, they surrendered meekly, handing India a comprehensive 190-run win.

New Zealand have played three ODI deciders in India — in 1995, 1999, and 2016 — having lost all of them in underwhelming circumstances. But Williamson is not the sort of person who would be overly vexed by these numbers. He knows that he is due a big score. A full house and a fully illuminated Green Park could just be the stage he needs to showcase his sublime talent and full repertoire. If that happens, it would provide the perfect closure to this short but thrilling ODI series.

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