The Eliminator against Bangalore was hanging in balance when Kane Williamson swung it towards Sunrisers Hyderabad with three shots: a late cut and two slog sweeps at various pressure points in the chase. These three shots reveal his temperament, skill and technique.
17.4 overs: 4 runs
A late cut off Navdeep Saini
It’s like the cookie-jar stashed on a high shelf. As kids we knew it was difficult, most likely out of reach, but we still reached out driven by urges beyond our control, almost. The late cut to the pacers is something like that. At no point in his endeavour can a batsman feel he has got it in control, unless you are Arjuna Ranatunga, perhaps. But the knowledge that there is a four for the taking beyond the overwhelming risk is too difficult to resist.
It’s a shot that breaks the fielding team’s heart. No wonder Saini looked like he saw a ghost and Kohli looked like a man who knew his fate was sealed. At what point in time did Kane Williamson decide that Nitin Saini’s delivery was good enough for the late cut? A short third man was hovering, and not too wide at that. The field was set-up for the on-the-up off drive. Or the drives down the ground. Manufacture pulls if you can. Try cuts if you are suicidal as length isn’t going to be short.
Late cut with wicket-keeper AB de Villiers waiting?
And to think Williamson didn’t play that shot as a youngster. “We decided that risk and reward wasn’t favourable as outfields are very slow in our lower grades,” David Johnston, his longtime coach tells The Indian Express.
As he got to higher levels of first-class cricket and international limited-overs, both saw its utility. “As often, third man up in the circle to quicker bowlers and outfields are faster.”
— SunRisers Hyderabad (@SunRisers) November 6, 2020
Let’s replay that ball now. The ball is pretty full in length, so full that Williamson thought Saini had gone for a yorker, as he says in a chat with Jason Holder on the official IPL site. That thought meant Williamson didn’t get forward, as he would perhaps have done otherwise.
As the ball travels towards him, he does what he usually does. “He gets into a very strong base to give himself options to play various shots,” Johnston the coach says. “The key is getting into that base to then have alternatives.”
The base for this ball was a slight shuffle towards off. He is already on the off-stump guard for this delivery and side-steps just a bit outside off as Saini is about to release. Then that yorker-thought hits him and he pauses.
For years, because of his desire to play the ball very late, delaying his reaction as late as possible, he had worked a lot on the back-foot drives down the ground. Thus, he can sometimes not stride forward as quickly as some other batsmen. He has the back-foot drive option ready to cover for such scenarios.
Right now for that Saini ball, he is at his preferred strong base — shoulders opened up a touch to allow unimpeded bat swing to the leg side if he chooses to go there, still square and head still enough to go on the off if he wants. Balanced, ready, non-committed.
It’s at this point that the thought of late cut stirs in the brain. “When you are in that strong position and you then hit the ball so late you have time to adjust and respond to what the bowler does. And what the ball is doing,” says Johnston.
The ball is fullish and straightening just outside off. His options for a boundary-shot are narrowing. The traditional cut shot is out of the window. Too full and close for that. A Kris Srikkanth like flamboyant scythe through the point on his back knee is a possibility but Williamson doesn’t indulge like that.
He hasn’t gone too far outside off or opened himself up too much to mow it to the leg, like Hardik Pandya does. A punch through cover point for a single to the sweeper is what seems to be staring at us.
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) November 6, 2020
Or that late cut, of course. He stirs. The knees bend. The hands come down as if he is pushing down a hand pump, if you will. A gentle chop. With Ranatunga, the tattooed image is the hands going up and the wrists corking back as his back-lift was much lower to the ground. Williamson’s hands are already up, and down they come.
“It becomes pretty intuitive that it is the result of lots of hard work in the nets hitting thousands of cricket balls.” Johnston is talking about when Williamson makes the decision to go for the late cut, at what point in that delivery. That intuition is powered by a rational mind, in the case of Williamson.
Over 15.6: 6 runs
Slog sweep off Yuzvendra Chahal
They needed 41 from 25 balls at this point. It was the last ball of Chahal’s spell. Bangalore needed a wicket, a boundary would have been welcome for Hyderabad. It would have been understandable had Williamson chosen to see Chahal off. It would have been fine if Chahal had gone for a run-saving option to pile more pressure. In the end, the choices they took revealed their character.
Chahal has been Bangalore’s best bowler in this tournament, he knew if he didn’t have one last crack off his final ball of the match, it could well be his last ball of this IPL. He had to come up with a ball that would tempt Williamson to have a go. He wanted to provoke a reaction. Make him go for the big hit.
His best wicket-taking ball when the batsmen are going after him is the one that he throws up well outside off. He had even tried it in that over, almost luring Holder into a fatal heave but the ball had spun past the edge. Chahal rightly intuited that Williamson might not have a go at such a delivery at this stage. The situation wasn’t that desperate for Hyderabad, yet. Williamson might also not come down the track for a regular ripping leg spinner on stumps, to work.
To tempt Williamson, it had to be that legbreak on the leg and middle line. Chahal usually bowls that line to hitters who aren’t that good against legspin as he can get them to top edge a heave or poke awkwardly and spoon a leading edge back. With Williamson, the second possibility was unlikely and he must have hoped for the first – the top-edged heave.
But Williamson didn’t mess up. Perhaps, had he decided too late to slog-sweep, he might have made a mistake but he moved quickly, decisively, and cleanly to smoke it for a six over midwicket. Chahal was right to do what he did; just that Williamson was too good on the day.
Over 13.5: 6 runs
Slog sweep off Washington Sundar
They needed 59 from 38 balls as they had slowed up considerably against the spinners to consolidate. Williamson was on 13 from 24 balls and Holder had just faced four when Washington Sundar came to bowl the fifth delivery of his second over that had produced just one run thus far.
“He has the astounding ability to isolate each ball and play it according to the demands of that ball, while needing to impose his input to what the game situation is.” At this point, the situation was crying out for a pressure-relieving boundary.
The spinners were swarming all over them and if left unchecked, they would take over complete control. Sundar can bowl out two more overs, and who knows a wicket might have emboldened Kohli to even try out Moeen Ali.
It was a ball outside off on a length and Williamson went down on his knee to dispose it over the cow corner. As it would turn out, Williamson’s six would make Kohli decide against letting Sundar or Ali to have another go. A six that took out two offspinners and forced the captain to bowl seamers later.
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