Kane Williamson
Kane Williamson of Sunrisers Hyderabad plays a shot during the match the Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the UAE, on September 29. 2020. Image Credit: BCCI/IPL/ANI

Why wasn’t Kane Williamson playing in the first two games? Either Sunrisers Hyderabad must have an embarrassment of riches in the middle-order, or the New Zealand skipper should be woefully out of form. Neither was the case. It came down to the quota of overseas players.

Only four overseas players can figure in the playing XI. Openers David Warner of Australia and Jonny Bairstow of England are automatic choices. And Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan is the ace in the bowling pack. That leaves only one slot open for Williamson and Mohammad Nabi of Afghanistan.

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It’s a difficult call for captain Warner. Nabi is a T20 specialist; he is handy with his off-spin and can rack up quick runs. Williamson hardly fits the T20 mould. The Kiwi is more a classical player with excellent batting technique. He doesn’t play too many aerial shots, and sixes are not a preferred mode of scoring.

So how does Williamson fit into Hyderabad’s T20 scheme of things? Very much like Virat Kohli for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, I’d say. Incidentally, there have been reports questioning their suitability for the shortest form of international cricket. I don’t buy into the argument that only players with a very high strike rate should be chosen for T20 games.

A good technique is essential for a good batsman, irrespective of the format. Without that players will lack consistency. Good hand-eye coordination is important, but that can’t replace technique and authentic strokes. All inventive shots are mere variations, and can only be played to flummox the bowlers later in the innings. You never see a ramp shot, reverse sweep or a dilscoop early in an innings.

Williamson and Kohli are accomplished batsmen with skill and intelligence. They pick the gaps to score boundaries, and run hard to steal singles and turn twos in threes. That’s cricketing acumen. It keeps the scoreboard ticking.

When the situation demands, Williamson and Kohli can step up the pace. They look for fours, not sixes. That’s good enough if the scoring rate is under control. So the key is to keep the run rate at manageable levels. They may not be able to do a Rahul Tewatia or an Andre Russell. That’s winning from losing positions.

When Williamson or Kohli is at the crease, they generally don’t let games slip away badly enough to warrant drastic measures. There have been instances in white-ball games, where Kohli slaughtered the bowling of Lasith Malinga and Nathan Coulter-Nile without clearing the ropes. If you can do it with fours, why risk it with sixes?

That brings us back to IPL 2020, where Williamson didn’t figure in the first two games of Hyderabad. They lost both: the first from a winning position. Here’s where the New Zealander comes in. The Hyderabad batting largely revolves around Warner, Bairstow and Manish Pandey. If the top three batsmen are taken out, Hyderabad are in deep trouble as they found out against Bangalore.

It took two losses for Warner to realise the importance of Williamson. When you have such a quality player in the squad, why would you keep him out when the batting needs stability. Well, it comes down to the balance of the side. That’s when some captains tend to go for the allrounder in the hope of getting some quick runs and a few tight overs.

It’s a trade-off. A quick-fix. That doesn’t work when the pressure kicks in. That’s the job of a specialist. That’s what Williamson showed us against the Delhi Capitals. At 92 for two, Hyderabad were at risk of squandering a safe start. The 12 over was in progress when the former Hyderabad skipper joined Bairstow.

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The complexion of the innings changed as Williamson took charge in a third-wicket stand that produced 52 runs off 39 deliveries, with the Kiwi doing the bulk of the scoring. When he finally fell with two balls left in the innings, he had posted 41 from 26 balls. Five boundaries, not a single six. Not bad for a non-specialist!

It didn’t look as if Williamson was playing his first IPL match this year. Such was the ease at which he found the gaps and the boundaries. He showed what Hyderabad were missing in the first two games. Maybe, they wouldn’t have lost the match to Bangalore.

Williamson may not be a T20 specialist, but he can bring to Hyderabad’s batting. Tuesday’s show should settle Warner’s doubts. Williamson is too good a player to be left in the dugout. Hyderabad should know by now.