posted on 2019-07-14 19:24:47
posted by Rohit Sankar
Image credits: Sky News
If the 2019 World Cup final was a war, Kane Williamson would be the one man that the opposition army would concentrate all their pre-war planning on. The shy smile, the awkward jokes, the funny quips; Williamson is hardly your everyday war hero off the field. But on it, he turns into this gladiator avatar, a beast who sees the bowler, the non-striker, the crowd, the sightscreen all as a blurry image and the ball as one HD 720-pixel image.
To thwart New Zealand and bring home the World Cup would be to bring down the gigantic monster that had shielded his men right through the World Cup. England may or may not have made solid plans, but Williamson would have made 100 fool-proof, imaginary plans for himself and countered each of them in his head before walking out onto the field.
The meticulousness, the level-headedness, is hard to miss as Williamson walks out and leaves ball one, a fourth stump delivery from Chris Woakes that seams away at the last minute. Woakes is a fraction fuller next ball, but Williamson is prepared. Lifts his bat ever so nicely yet again. Three leaves and one solid defensive push in the four balls he faces from Woakes in that over.
Jofra Archer, in every way, is the opposite of Williamson. He is a tearaway who has taken the world by storm; a mercenary who harboured hopes of representing his adopted home, damned every single one of them on Twitter and still squeezed into the World Cup team to top their wicket takers chart. Archer isn’t Woakes. Woakes isn’t Archer. That’s their strength and two years from now, it could be the most potent new ball combination in World cricket.
Archer won’t just test Williamson’s fourth stump defense although that was the plan discussed in the drawing board. He isn’t one to stick to the dry and high meeting room decisions. Archer has his ways and in more than one way he has showed that the one-dimensional outcome of such plans isn’t what England need on the field.
He forces Williamson to sway out of the way with a bumper first up. The next ball is a corker – probably stemming from a realization that he had swayed away from the original plan - outside off-stump, angling in and moving away off the deck to leave Williamson clueless. No, but he won’t stick to being one-dimensional. That’s Woakes’ job. The next is another bumper and the next is on the fourth stump line again.
Williamson has won several one-on-one battles this World Cup. If England is Archer’s adopted nation, the Black Caps skipper could well claim this to be his favourite place in the World too. He averages over a 90 in this World Cup and aside from one freak run-out at the non-striker’s end against England in the group stage, he hasn’t been dismissed for under 40 in ODIs in six years and 17 innings in this country.
He knows he is the pillar that holds this Kiwis fort. Only two other New Zealand batsmen have over 200 runs in this World Cup – James Neesham and Ross Taylor. Williamson has nearly 30% of all runs New Zealand have made in this World Cup. To get to a total from where New Zealand can dictate terms, he simple has to click. That was the plan all along even as he won the toss and chose to bat first under overcast skies and a pitch so green that the Wimbledon finals could’ve been staged here.
Chris Woakes is a Warwickshire faithful since 2006. A product of England chasing the next Andrew Flintoff, Woakes knows why he is in the ODI side and why he is charging in with the new ball in a World Cup final – overcast conditions and a green top. He had devoured Australia with his swing and seam movement in the semi-finals. But Williamson is a different beast; one for whom the plan and the execution will have to be pinpoint perfect.
Woakes bangs the fourth stump channel mercilessly. Each ball is excellently delivered and met with a dead bat from the Kiwis skipper. There is no out-thinking Williamson. He has gone over this battle in his head several times and each time he has won it. He is prepared for this like Woakes is and there’s only one way this battle is swinging. Woakes bowls seven overs upfront, the most he has bowled in an opening spell. He doesn’t get Williamson. But he never deters from his plan for even a ball.
Eoin Morgan will perhaps be remembered as the calmest England skipper. He has jumped ships and edged his way to the helm of the oldest cricket team in the world only for this one moment. Like Williamson, he has ruled the press conferences. Unlike Williamson, he doesn’t lead from the front. He prefers to send his troops out to attack while plotting every single move from the background.
The task in the finals is far from regular for him. He is up against the one person who can out-think him. Williamson.
Williamson is on 4 off 24 balls as Morgan turns to Mark Wood for some pace. And pace he gets. Wood beats Williamson’s bat off successive deliveries sprayed well outside the off-stump at Shaun Tait pace. One is even called a wide. The New Zealand skipper had waited enough and wished to make use of Wood’s waywardness. After two balls, that plan is shelved. He is back to leaving balls.
Morgan now turns to Adil Rashid ahead of Ben Stokes. It is a surprising move considering the wicket, the success Williamson has had against the leg-spinner and the match situation. But Morgan clearly knows what he is doing. He has Williamson’s best laid plans in a photocopy stuffed into his pocket. It is no sandpaper but Morgan knows it’s a lethal weapon he can use against his opposite number. Williamson barely gets anything in the fourth stump channel for the next five overs altered between Wood and Rashid.
He moves from 10 off 32 to 30 off 51 in these five overs. There’s a slog sweep off Rashid, there is a sublime cover drive off a 147kmph length ball off Wood and a few good ol’ dabs down to third man. Williamson is in motion now. His arms are freeing up and the rhythm is starting to set in. He isn’t leaving balls any longer and the length balls are dealt with more positivity. Morgan sets himself up for that big move. It has to come now or never. It could cost a World Cup.
Liam Plunkett is an odd choice in a World Cup final eleven. He barely generates swing or movement off the deck. He has pace but the knack of taking wickets that made him England’s best bet in the pre-Archer period seems absent of late. He loves the old ball and its reflected in a weird stat that CricViz dishes out as Henry Nicholls pummels him through the square boundary for a boundary. In 2019, Plunkett averages 48 in his first spell and 31 in his second spell.
His first spell is garbage. But Morgan knows why he has Plunkett in the side. He is a wicket-taker in an innocent, yet subtly lethal manner. In the middle over phase in this World Cup, Plunkett has the second most wickets by any bowler. His pace isn’t as threatening as Wood but he has a clever slower ball and a handy cross seamer. Of late, he has learnt to combine the two to good effect.
He loves Lord’s. He has the most wickets among the current crop of bowlers at this historic venue. The task Morgan has dumped on Plunkett in this second spell is clear – dismiss Williamson. It seems a flawed move considering Plunkett’s first spell and the freedom with which Williamson was batting by the time he returned for his second spell. But Morgan can be adamant with his plans and this move is straight out of a game of chess.
With Williamson used to Wood’s pace and Rashid’s looseners, Plunkett’s facade – a harmless demeanor masking his skill – is perfect for Morgan. The first ball Plunkett bowls at Williamson is full and at drive-able length. A 131kmph delivery that WIlliamson drives to the fielder. The next is that well deceived slower cross seamer. It lands on the very length Woakes had tested Williamson for an entire spell but it is slower and the cross-seamed delivery bounces more.
Williamson prods and appears to be beaten but Morgan and England know he has edged it. They are celebrating even before the spike appears on UltraEdge in the review taken. The big fish had been brought down and England – Morgan armed with a bunch of seemingly innocuous fast bowlers – had out-thought and out-planned the New Zealand skipper.