The ICC World Cup 2019 finally got the thriller that it so desperately needed and a magnificent under-pressure hundred only made it that much better. The South Africa-New Zealand game at Edgbaston went right down to the wire, and it was Kiwi captain Kane Williamson’s classy unbeaten hundred that clinched the game for New Zealand and ended in absolute heartbreak for South Africa. It was an important game for the Proteas. They had to win it to stay alive in the tournament. But unfortunately, it was not to be.
On a tight and slow wicket, South Africa could manage 241-6. It was a tricky total as New Zealand struggled to get going in the middle stage and at 137-5 looked to be out of the contest. But Williamson played outstandingly well with Colin De Grandhomme and crafted a hundred for the ages.
Run-scoring wasn’t easy as the ball was gripping the surface, and the South African seamers were using the slow off-cutters well. Williamson too struggled for a large part in his innings and was visibly frustrated as he couldn’t score runs, kept hitting the ball to the fielders and had a lot of dots to his name. But he didn’t panic, soaked in the pressure and didn’t give his wicket away. With singles and twos and a few hours here and there, Williamson quietly brought the target down.
With the Kiwis needing 12 off the last seven deliveries, Williamson guided a slower one deftly away past the man at short third for a four. Then, in the second ball of the previous over, he bent down and slogged one over deep mid-wicket for a six to bring his century and cut the next ball past point to deliver a thrilling victory for New Zealand.
Williamson remained unbeaten on a beautiful 106 off 138 balls with nine fours and a six – his first century in the World Cup. It was a masterful effort, sort of a throwback to the early 90s where each run was earned. In a tournament where there has been a flurry of fours and sixes, Williamson’s slow and steady effort on a very tough pitch came as a breath of fresh air. It was indeed the knock of the tournament so far.
The Kiwi captain’s majestic performance has earned him plaudits from the world over and rightly so. Former New Zealand captain Jeremy Coney correctly assessed Williamson’s sterling effort.
“It was a mental quality from Kane Williamson today. He didn’t look comfortable, couldn’t play the shots he likes to play, and he was frustrated,” Coney was quoted as saying. “He had to battle the demons in himself. He trusted his instinct that he could do it and the four down to the third man in the penultimate over was crucial. He taught his team a lot today.”
Kane Williamson has proven once again that if pressure is the yardstick, he is the best batsman of this generation, especially when it comes to batting on tough wickets. He did it against Australia in Auckland in the 2015 World Cup, and he has done it again in the current edition. Williamson might not have the flourish of Virat Kohli or the brute power of Jos Butler, but he certainly is all class. And sometimes that matters the most.