Dubai: Did the third week of the ICC World Cup actually provide the spark that it was lacking in so far? The answer has to be yes — not because it witnessed a rise in the number of centuries — but the variety of craftsmanship one saw in the efforts of Rohit Sharma, Shakib Al Hassan and, of course, Kane Williamson late on Wednesday night.
If the India vice-captain’s innings of 140, which knocked the sails out of arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday was sublime, the Bangladesh all-rounder’s unbeaten 124 against the Caribbean pace attack in leading a chase of 300-plus target was simply audacious. A study in total contrast was the ice cool Williamson — the Kiwi skipper’s first ton in the tournament should go down as a model innings in chasing on a slow and sticky wicket where strokeplay was extremely difficult.
It was only two weeks ago that I had written about an ‘uncharacteristic’ century by Sharma in India’s opener against South Africa. The heavy conditions, importance of getting a winning start — all weighed heavy on this classy performer’s mind as he approached his innings with the discipline required in typically English conditions.
The approach changed dramatically when the ‘Hitman’ shifted into one of his imperious moods against a formidable attack of Pakistan on paper. The way Sharma toyed with the opposition bowling was a sight to behold — but when he had a soft dismissal after doing all the damage — his anger at himself betrayed a new hunger for runs in the Mumbaikar’s personality.
Shakib, the world No. 1-ranked all-rounder in one-dayers not so long ago (he is now second to Jason Holder), has been there and done that in his international career — but few would have vouched for him to have completed the job during a chase of 322 runs. The self-belief of the spunky Bangladesh team may have been ignited on the day by opener Tamim Iqbal and No. 5 Liton Das’ sparkling half-century, but the composure with which Shakib led the counter-attack at Southampton on Monday was simply amazing.
And that of course brings us to Williamson — who looks more than capable of carrying forward the legacy of Brendon McCullum as one of the most popular and effective sides in white ball cricket. I will be rating his grafted 106 against a quality South African attack much higher than Eoin Morgan’s mayhem against Afghanistan only a day before for its sheer value in crisis management.
Chasing a competitive total of 241 at Edgbaston, New Zealand were in all sorts of trouble after losing three wickets within 80 runs.
Williamson stuck to the virtues of the basics of the game — keeping the scoreboard moving by playing the balls late and running for the singles while letting Colin de Grandhomme being the aggressor.
The century finally came in style in the last over with a flourish — a big six over mid-wicket off a nervous looking Andile Phehlukwayo.
New Zealand’s win on Wednesday is further helping a clearer picture to emerge on the top four, but that’s a story for another day.