Cool-headed Williamson gets NZ home in WCup thriller
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — As Kane Williamson’s career has grown in stature over the past 12 months, he has established himself not just as a consistent batsman but a cool head and a man for a crisis.
He had to be all of those things on Saturday as he struggled — alone — to hold together a decaying New Zealand innings and lead his team to a one-wicket win over Australia in a thrilling clash between the Cricket World Cup co-hosts.
Williamson came to the wicket as first drop when New Zealand was in a relatively commanding position of 40-1, chasing Australia’s inadequate total of 151. He watched Brendon McCullum hit 50 to boost the run-chase before New Zealand’s innings fell into a steady and worrying decline.
It slipped to 79-4 in the face of the first of two match-changing onslaughts from the Australian left-armer Mitchell Starc, and after Williamson had put on 52 for the fifth wicket with Corey Anderson (26), he saw the innings fall into a steeper and more worrying collapse.
New Zealand slumped from 131-5 to 146-9, six runs from victory, as Starc took three wickets for four runs in his last three overs. Luke Ronchi fell for 6 and Daniel Vettori for 2, depriving New Zealand of its last two players with a claim to batsmanship, then Williamson saw Adam Milne and Tim Southee fall for ducks to consecutive balls.
That brought to the wicket the last man, Trent Boult, who already provided yeoman service to his team by taking career-best figures of 5-27 — five wickets for three runs in his final spell — to lead the destruction of the Australian innings.
Williamson decided that not much could be asked of Boult with the bat and desperate times called for desperate measures. He urged Boult to fend off as best he could the last two balls of the over he had to face, then made up his mind to settle the issue in one blow.
Williamson stepped away from his stumps to free his arms and hit the first ball of the next over, bowled by Pat Cummins, over the long-on fence for six. With that shot the game was won and New Zealand preserved its unbeaten record in Pool A.
“I was looking to hit a boundary, ideally a six,” Williamson said. “After what Starc did at the other end, for the new batsman coming in it was obviously quite tough so trying to get a boundary away was the plan.
“To be honest, I thought (the final ball) was going to be a bit shorter but when it was up there it was nice to get the ball in that area and connect and hit it for six. It was great to win and that’s what Trent and I were trying to do.
“Obviously Australia made it tough for us but we fought all the way through and every little partnership counted.”
No-one was more relieved than Boult to see the ball cross the boundary.
“I was pretty wound up, that’s for sure,” Boult said. “I got out there and I was going about a million miles an hour but Kane quickly slowed it down for me, simplified it and said if I got through the next two balls then we could move forward from there.
“It was great to get there.”
Boult said New Zealand would take confidence from a win over Australia, the world’s top-ranked side and tournament favorite.
“I guess a lot of confidence is gathered from that,” he said. “When you come up against the best in the world you quickly take a few lessons out of it.
“We sat in our hotel a couple of days ago, scouting and going through their batsmen and we knew how much depth they had so to come out and put the game plans we thought of into place is obviously very satisfying.”