Sealed it with a dab. It is an unlikely end to a story of a thrilling match that is a throwback to eras gone by. New Zealand need 12 off seven balls. Kane Williamson opens the face to a slower ball, places it fine of short third man, gets four for it and kills the game off just when South Africa have started to dream again with just five runs and one wicket off the previous 11 balls. This boundary seems like just the Williamson thing to do, but the man himself was candid enough to acknowledge this was not the plan.
“Yeah, I was just looking for a single, to be honest, and then at the last minute I…” Williamson said to suggest he changed the shot at the last moment to place it fine of the short third-man fielder.
“No, no, I didn’t,” Williamson admitted to loud laughter from the press conference. International sports press conferences can be pretty banal, with New Zealand players – Williamson included – actually mastering the art of speaking a lot without saying anything. On this night, though, Williamson was in a playful mood after having scored a brilliantly calculated hundred to take New Zealand to a win against South Africa and virtually guarantee them a spot in the semi-finals.
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“No, I was just looking for a single and to try to get down the other end, obviously, the shorter side [on the leg side],” Williamson said. “South Africa were having to bowl their fifth bowler [in the last over]. So it was nice it rolled away for four, definitely.”
Williamson was asked about the period when he kept hitting balls straight to fielders, and his response was: “Those ones were coming out of the middle too, which was seemingly enjoyable but couldn’t get any runs out of it.” He was reminded of the times he got frustrated and swung his bat around, and he reminded the reporters of how many times he was hit on the arm: three times. “Once it [the bat] slipped, and it looked like [I was swinging it in frustration]. Yeah, it didn’t have the anger behind it, but it did fall out.”
This is not the Williamson you see at press conferences. This must have been a special innings although he didn’t get into comparing it with his other knocks. He still didn’t reveal many secrets about the chase, but he spoke enough the challenges on a slow, two-paced pitch.
“If you’re bowling those straight lines it’s difficult to hit across the ball when it is standing up in the wicket,” Williamson said of the period when he struggled to find any gaps. “So you’re trying to play straight, hoping that perhaps you pierce a few. But on those sorts of surfaces, when you’re trying to weigh up the chase, it wasn’t all that important that you weren’t getting runs for them.”
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That was the important part of the chase. Trying to not let the frustration get the better of him when all South Africa needed was one indiscretion from him to give them his wicket. “You always feel,” Williamson said when asked if he does feel the tension at certain times and if he has any routines to get out of it. “Some days it’s free-flowing and you don’t have to perhaps negotiate as much as other days. And then, it’s a little bit different if you’re chasing a higher score perhaps on a better surface and you are required to perhaps push it at different stages.
“But with the total we were chasing, albeit on a tough surface, it meant that it doesn’t have to be right here right now, which I guess is sometimes the thing that can cloud you. And if you’re able to communicate with your partner, hopefully, that can help with decision-making. And at the end of the day, you’re just wanting to make the best decisions you can despite at times struggling through different periods of an innings.”
This was only the second close game out of 25 in this bloated World Cup. Both have involved New Zealand. Williamson believes the experience of having come on the right side of those will help them later in the tournament. “There’s a huge amount to learn from this performance,” he said. “The experiences that you have by being put under pressure on a number of different occasions, whether it’s with the bat or the ball, having close games in tournaments like the World Cup are great to be a part of, especially when you come out on the right side of things.
“We also know that we’ve got a number of games left on different surfaces. We’ll be back here [in Birmingham, for another league match and a possible semi-final] again at some point. We won’t know the difference that will hold for us, but we’ll also have Manchester [which will also host one of the semi-finals], where we go next, and once again, I know that’s been playing well. We’ll just have to adapt and keep playing the sort of cricket that gives us the best opportunity to win cricket games, but day in, day out, that can vary a lot depending on opposition and surfaces.”