Veteran broadcaster Harsha Bhogle once said this about legendary Indian batter Rahul Dravid — “If you asked Dravid to walk on glass for his team, his only question would be: ‘How many miles?’ That just shows you how great a man he is.”
On Saturday, in Dravid’s hometown and at the stadium that has a massive mural dedicated to the current India men’s team coach at the administrative entrance, another man stepped into this selfless template — Kane Williamson.
Williamson has had a rocky World Cup so far — first struggling with a knee injury and then managing to fracture his thumb on his return to the cricket pitch against Bangladesh. Back in the team after four games, with a solitary win against Afghanistan and three losses to India, Australia and South Africa in the team’s tally, Williamson had his work cut out for him against Pakistan.
Both sides entered the fixture needing a win to solidify their semifinal chances in the tournament. An outright win meant greater security for New Zealand, while Pakistan — even if victorious — still needs other results to confidently get to the first class lounge of this tournament.
Batting alongside a young and eccentric Rachin Ravindra, Williamson quietly stacked up run after run, using his feet well to place and time the ball and find boundaries. While essaying his duties on field, Williamson also crossed the 1000-run mark in ODI World Cups, becoming only the third Kiwi to do so and overtook Stephen Fleming (1075 runs in 33 innings) as the player with most runs for his country in World Cups — 1084 runs in 24 innings. A century would have been the cherry on top for a calm and assured innings that took Pakistan entirely out of the equation for the 23-odd overs (146 balls) Williamson and Ravindra weathered together, but it was not to be.
When asked about missing out on the milestone, Williamson went red in the face.
“Look, I just try and play the role for the team as best I can. And we were certainly in a position where we wanted to accelerate, regardless of what you’re on. It’s just about trying to do the job for the team and we saw that from a number of guys. Whether you pass a milestone or not, that’s probably more for all you people (reporters) in the room. But contributing to the team is certainly the most important thing,” he said, a big smile plastered across his face.
Play the role, he did. With a heavily strapped thumb and the splint still intact. Williamson’s face doesn’t betray the potential pain he may have felt while dealing with Pakistan’s short deliveries or diving around on the field. Not even when he took a stunner of a catch, running behind and diving to dismiss Abdullah Shafique wide of mid-off. Ten to fifteen minutes later, we saw the man seated in the dugout, taking a breather, with one hand gripping the other with the broken thumb. A gulp of water, some chatter with one of the boys on the bench and captain Kane was back on the field, ever the busy body.
Even with the bat, the change in gears was evident as Williamson peered through the field for any chance of a run. After taking a little time to settle in, a switch flipped in his head, and the risky - mildly so - running, nudges to the fine leg boundary and his eventual aerial prowess were on show.
The last 65 of his 95 runs came in just 44 balls, as opposed to the first 30 (which came off 35 deliveries). His inside out shots over cover would bring out the classic Italian chef’s kiss even if you had no remote connection to the European peninsula nation.
Trailing Ravindra by a good 20 runs for most of their partnership, the two found themselves in the 90s together — an indication that the exalted member of the ‘Fab Four or Five, depending on how you count the pantheon (alongside Joe Root, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Babar Azam) was not just here to throw in purple prose in New Zealand’s 50-over essay.
When asked to take a moment to reveal how he and his creaking body are holding up, Williamson just smiled.
“To be honest, (I’m) not really focusing on those things. It’s just more about where we need to be as a team and what we need to try and do and the cricket that we need to play and a lot of good stuff. A lot of teams are playing really, really well. And so, it’s important that we keep focusing on our cricket and the challenge that we’ve got in a few days’ time against Sri Lanka,” he said.
New Zealand’s nice boy image sometimes band-aids their glaring competitive inconsistencies but tournament formats like the one we find ourselves in the middle of only allow you so much space for niceties. What there is room for is grit and persistence.
Fakhar Zaman embodied that for Pakistan and Williamson is that allegory for the Kiwis. No one screams ‘hit me with your best shot, I’ll find a way to quietly get up and get on with it,” more than the Tauranga-born batter. Whether it’s waterboy duties or a warrior-like innings in a crunch game, for New Zealand, Kane is always ‘able’ and that makes all the difference.