Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Williamson, Shahzad, and the Abu Dhabi contrast. A post-match conversation where Shahzad spoke and Williamson listened
A post-match conversation where Shahzad spoke and Williamson listened
Soon after New Zealand hit the winning runs, Mohammad Shahzad skimmed past his teammates to catch up with Kane Williamson.
The two men walked shoulder to shoulder on their way back to the pavilion in Abu Dhabi; the pads restricting their respective gaits and the heat their smiles as Shahzad spoke and gesticulated, and Williamson listened.
It was footage worth a thousand words. Two top-order batsmen who are utterly crucial to their team's chances, who don't necessarily align to the same visible standards of fitness but are as able-bodied as the next sportsman, and who couldn't be any more different when it comes to batting, being the sincere centre of a frame. The contrast and the metaphor on offer was hard to miss.
Shahzad scored 4 off 11 balls in a loss for Afghanistan. Williamson was unbeaten on 40 off 42 balls in a win for New Zealand.
How Shahzad got out was, in fact, the perfect microcosm for the brand of bowling that New Zealand unleashed on Sunday (November 7). Bowling over-the-wicket, Adam Milne pounded the pitch on a hard length, sticking to a game plan established brilliantly by Trent Boult and Tim Southee in the opening couple of overs. Shahzad spotted the length and went for the square cut, but all he managed was a toe-end back to the keeper.
It's not a dismissal that Shahzad would want to look back on. He was off-balance on his front foot while playing a short ball, and his back leg hung in the air at right angles as he was cramped for room.
Milne didn't even think it was “that great a ball” but the plan worked perfectly against Shahzad. Like it did against other Afghanistan batsmen who love hanging on the front foot.
“The plan for us today was to use our short balls and to try and push them back early,” Milne explained later. “So I think that was my plan early too and I sort of bowled a relatively short one and he managed to get an under-edge and was caught behind… which was very fortunate. But yeah, overall that was our sort of plan to push them back a little bit and then we were also able to pitch it back up and attack the stumps, and use the change-ups from there.
“It was pleasing to have a good performance for the whole bowling unit. I thought the way Timmy (Southee) and Trent started us off really brought great intensity to the start of the bowling spell and then I was able to continue on that which was good.”
Shahzad got into quite a tangle as he edged one behind.
What also came to the fore was just how multipurpose New Zealand's bowling attack is. They have now fielded the same set of bowlers for a third afternoon game inside five days — the fact not just attesting to their fitness but also skills. They have looked sharp and incisive at all the three venues they played at over this frenetic week, be it on the low and slow surface of Sharjah, the good batting deck of Dubai or the pacy and bouncy surface of Abu Dhabi.
Against Afghanistan, the luxuries of that bowling combination came to the fore after the spinners, who hitherto had excelled in the middle overs, were taken apart by Najibullah Zadran. Santner and Ish Sodhi bowled 4 overs between them for 1-40, the first time they combined to bowl less than 7 overs. But in came Neesham to tip the balance back in New Zealand's favour, bowling his full quota of overs for the first time in the tournament.
It was perhaps a reward for the tactical change that New Zealand made as early as their second game, bringing in Adam Milne for Tim Seifert. “Just gives us a nice balance to our bowling attack, provides us with extra pace as well,” Williamson had said at the toss. It meant giving the wicket-keeping gloves to relatively inexperienced Devon Conway but it allowed New Zealand the comfort of having three frontline pace bowlers in Boult, Southee and Milne, one frontline spinner in Sodhi, and three all-round options in Mitchell Santner, James Neesham and Daryl Mitchell, who also slots in as an opener.
That Conway has picked up some sharp catches behind the stumps and taken to the role perfectly means there have been no compensations that New Zealand have had to make so far.
It's incredible how things have fallen in place for New Zealand, and continue to every time the statistics and apprehensions tend to play them down. Who thought that players from New Zealand, who had played their last 24 T20Is on fast lanes back home, will adjust to the slow-mo strategies of the UAE, a country with the slowest scoring rate since the 2016 World Cup.
Even worse, New Zealand had their hotshot opener Martin Guptill painfully out of form and were experimenting with a brand new opening combination. Their X-factor Lockie Ferguson stood ruled out even before a ball was bowled and Williamson, their best bet in what were expected to be spin-friendly conditions, started the tournament sitting out of a warm-up match thanks to a stinging elbow.
But New Zealand have once again managed to make the best of their circumstances, playing the hand that they were dealt. And they have been tight-lipped and down low while at it. No sweeping statements, no pressing charges, no false modesty either.
The team clearly takes from its captain. No wonder Williamson was doing most of the listening in the conversation earlier today. There are no better words than not many.