India probably lost the semi-final to New Zealand in a catastrophic 40-minute spell, but New Zealand have one man to thank them for getting them to their second successive World Cup final. That man is their captain and talisman, the soft-spoken batsman who with his steely batsmanship refuses to back down even in the toughest situations.
Kane Williamson might not be the highest run-getter in this World Cup nor might he have played the devastating knocks that have signified Rohit Sharma or David Warner’s glorious journeys, but he has been more instrumental in his team’s charge into the final than the other two.
Those journeys are over, his is on the edge of greatness. His journey continues on Sunday in the final at Lord’s, while the others are left lamenting their inability to put up a solid knock when it mattered.
On Tuesday, India had begun the semi-final against Williamson’s team all guns blazing. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuveshwar Kumar were right on the money with the new ball and the Kiwis already seemed to have capitulated before the first powerplay was over.
Martin Guptill’s horror show in this tournament ended soon and it was again left to the captain to rescue another lost cause. From 1/1, Williamson began another slow, but steady, recovery process.
The pitch was difficult, the Indian bowlers were on top and Williamson seemed to have no fluency in his stroke-play, but the significance of his stuttering knock of 67 could only be inferred in hindsight post one of the greatest wins in Kiwi cricket history.
Williamson, one of the world’s premier batsmen, has played troubleshooter throughout the World Cup, as his openers have been on a prolonged nightmarish run. His 148 against West Indies reinforced his pedigree as the new wall of world cricket, slow and solid batting at the beginning, precise acceleration towards the end. He may not have managed that final phase against India, but what he had done was enough for a famous win.
Not always pretty
Williamson, understandably, has a strike rate of just 76.32 in this World Cup because he has always played the role of an escape artiste for a mediocre batting unit, but his astounding average of 91.33 proves that he is one of the toughest batsmen to get out once he gets into the groove.
New Zealand’s journey into the final, despite a series of losses towards the end of the league phase and indifferent form, owes a lot to their mercurial captain, who has scored almost 31 per cent of his team’s runs.
One man against a team
Yes, the Kiwis have a great pace attack with the likes of Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson in their ranks, they might have the veteran Ross Taylor to get runs in the middle-order.
However, compared to England’s stature as a complete team, New Zealand are more of a one-man army. Williamson’s intelligent captaincy, level-headedness and impeccable technique as a batsman stand between the hosts and a maiden World Cup trophy.
All eyes will be on the home of cricket on the 14th to find out whether Williamson can conjure another memorable win in his classic, understated style.