PAKISTAN VS NEW ZEALAND IN UAE, 2018
Williamson’s cover drives, which were in significant number, left the spectators in awe © AFP
Every ball is leaving the pitch more powdery. The cracks continue to widen and, as is the case in this part of the world, the bounce is getting awkward. Just earlier in the morning, his side’s most experienced batsman, Ross Taylor, had become a victim of pitch’s misbehaviour. So, the threat is real.
Fresh of rewriting the record books and oozing with confidence, Yasir Shah begins his stride to bowl the third ball of the 27th over of the second New Zealand innings. It is a menacing wrong ‘un which hits good length. If that’s not enough to destroy the batsman, the pitch offers assistance. The ball stays low while turning sharply into the batsman.
There wasn’t much ambiguity of what was required from the both sides when the fourth day of the Abu Dhabi Test began. Pakistan had to stretch their momentum from the last day. And, New Zealand? Well, with the pitch misbehaving and a daunting deficit to surmount, the question was for how long the New Zealand batsmen will be able to defy the impending disaster. To add to their agony, they lost two wickets within the first hour of the day, leaving them reeling at four down with still 14 runs behind.
At that point, it required a herculean effort to keep New Zealand in the contest. And, Kane Williamson staged it. Of course, who else other than him? With home advantage becoming prominent in cricket more than ever, it is a batsman’s ability to accumulate runs overseas that make him stand out from the rest. But, where to rate a man who has shielded his team throughout the series in inimical conditions?
Williamson began the day at 14 and by stumps he was unbeaten on 139, becoming the first New Zealand batsman to score a century this tour. His extraordinary transfer of weight laced with impeccable judgement of length gave the illusion of this 22-yards being the most placid ever prepared in the UAE. Though he played elegant strokes around the dial, his cover drives, which were in significant number, left the spectators in awe. His first boundary of the day came off it. So, did the one that took him into triple digits as he plunged forward and milked Hasan Ali’s fuller delivery.
There were nervy moments. But he came back stronger than before, underscoring his resilience. Batting on 80 in the 56th over, he pulled a Bilal Asif’s second ball to square leg who spilled a regulation catch. Two balls later, he jumped down the wicket against a fuller delivery and dispatched it to mid-wicket boundary with a graceful flick.
Such was the class of his knock that it started to look cruel to keep Pakistan in the field. In the evening session, Yasir, after running out of all the options, resorted to coming around the wicket to invoke something. Just something!
“The great think about Kane is that he makes it look easy at times,” said New Zealand batting coach Craig McMillan. “Those who have been out there realise how difficult it is [to bat on this pitch], but such is the class of the man that at times he makes batting look ridiculously easy.
“There was certainly some turn in surface for Yasir Shah and Bilal Asif and they stuck with the task pretty well the whole day. In terms of us getting ourselves in trouble at the start of the day by losing two early wickets, I think it was a fantastic innings.”
New Zealand lead Pakistan by 198 runs with six wickets in hand. Though all three results are possible on the final day of the series-deciding contest, New Zealand have never lost a Test when Williamson scores in three figures in the second innings. The unbeaten 212-run stand for the fifth-wicket between the New Zealand captain and Henry Nicholls promises to make things worse for the hosts.
And then, there’s this stat which says that in the last five Tests only once the team batting in the fourth innings has secured a win in Abu Dhabi.
Williamson had transferred his weight on his backfoot after picking up the length of Yasir Shah’s delivery early. But, after noticing the ball staying low than expected, he made necessary adjustments and brought his bat quickly to blunt the threat and worked the ball to forward short-leg.
That one delivery beautifully encapsulated how Williamson batted with caution to see his side through to safer waters.