Kane Williamson's class makes New Zealand World Cup title contenders
Williamson's unbeaten 106 from 138 balls against South Africa maintained New Zealand's unbeaten start to the World Cup
By David Ruse
Last Updated: 22/06/19 3:16pm
There are many ways to score a World Cup hundred.
Blistering and brutal, like Eoin Morgan's six-infested 57-ball ton for England against Afghanistan on Tuesday, but also cool, calm and collected, like Kane Williamson's 137-ball epic against South Africa a day later. Morgan creamed an ODI-record 17 sixes, Williamson just the pivotal one.
Morgan was red-hot, Williamson was ice-cold but both helped propel their sides to victories that moved them closer to the semi-finals.
The England captain played a mind-boggling knock, yet the New Zealand skipper's innings was surely more important and, arguably, greater considering the pressure, pitch and bowlers faced.
You get the feeling that Morgan's men would have seen off Afghanistan regardless of their leader's 148-run blitzkrieg, but without Williamson, New Zealand would probably have been toast. Their unbeaten run up in smoke.
For while Morgan strode to the wicket, bad back and all, with his team handily placed at 164-2 in the 30th over with Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and, to a lesser extent, James Vince having built a platform, Williamson had to deal with setback after setback and did so in unflappable style.
He walked to the crease with New Zealand 12-1 in the third over in their chase of 242 on a tricky deck, having seen a fired-up Kagiso Rabada remove Colin Munro and a fit-again Lungi Ngidi operating from the other end.
But Williamson steadied that situation alongside Martin Guptill - the captain had faced only 11 deliveries by the end of the powerplay as he let the more aggressive Guptill hog the strike - as the pair put on 60, only for the Black Caps to be rocked again by three wickets for eight runs.
Williamson gazed on from the non-striker's end as Guptill trod on his stumps and Ross Taylor and Tom Latham were caught down the leg and off-side respectively from Chris Morris deliveries. Suddenly the Black Caps were 80-4 but there would be no fazing Williamson.
On he went, steering to his safe place of third man and cutting behind point - areas where he accrued a combined 32 of his 106 runs - and also effortlessly clipping to mid-on and mid-wicket. There was the odd immaculate drive in the 'V', too, as he compiled vital stands of 57 and 91 with Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme respectively.
Neesham became Morris' third victim, leaving New Zealand tottering on 137-7 in the 33rd over of their revised 49 but the placid Williamson was still not thrown off course, admittedly that he was helped by De Grandhomme quickly adjusting to the Edgbaston wicket - his experience of playing for Birmingham Bears in the Vitality Blast perhaps paying dividends - and finding the fence frequently.
There were further hurdles for Williamson to overcome, though, in an absorbing final two overs, which began with New Zealand requiring 14.
De Grandhomme clothed Ngidi's first ball to Faf du Plessis at long-off to fall for (60) and the Black Caps only managed to pick up two runs from the first deliveries of the 48th over. The equation had turned into 12 from seven. South Africa were very much back in the game.
At that point, however, Williamson played arguably the shot of the day, fittingly through third man, exquisitely gliding away a cutter from Ngidi after waiting for it to reach him. When the ball hit the ropes, New Zealand had regained firm control. Still, eight from six balls is no cakewalk.
Except it is if you are Williamson.
Mitchell Santner got his captain back on strike with a single and, with seven needed from five balls, Williamson finished the game in a hurry, smiting Andile Phehlukwayo for a maximum over mid-wicket - see, I told you his sole six was a crucial one - to complete his 12th ODI hundred and first at the World Cup and leave pundits purring. Four next ball and the game was won.
Sure, Williamson's innings was not without lifelines - he would have gone caught behind to Imran Tahir on 76 had South Africa reviewed, he should have been run out by David Miller on 77 and he could have gone for 74 as he ballooned towards Miller at mid-wicket. He was dropped on 85, too, before Ngidi's blushes were spared by a Phehlukwayo no ball.
Yet, that should matter little when the knock is remembered. It is not as if Morgan's innings was lessened by the fact he was dropped on 28 or David Warner's 166 against Bangladesh on Thursday has an asterisk next to it because he was spilled at backward point on 10.
Williamson's knock was a clinical one played by a classy individual, which cemented New Zealand's place in the top four and proved once again he is worth his place in that much-vaunted player 'top four', alongside England's Joe Root, Australia's Steve Smith and India's Virat Kohli.
Williamson does not garner the column inches of the other three, understandable, really, in that he is not as well-known to England fans as Root; he has not ground England into the dirt in a Test series or been involved in a ball-tampering scandal like Smith, and is not as expressive as Kohli.
But with him at the helm, and at the wicket, New Zealand, everyone's perennial dark horses, could yet prove World Cup thoroughbreds. Victory over West Indies on Saturday will edge them nearer to that goal.
Watch every match of the ICC Cricket World Cup live on Sky Sports Cricket World Cup, including New Zealand vs West Indies from 1pm on Saturday on Sky Sports Mix (channel 121).