Williamson holds key to New Zealand hopes in World Cup semis
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Get Kane Williamson, get New Zealand.
That's the apparent narrative facing India heading into a Cricket World Cup semifinal on Tuesday between many people's tournament favorite and the undoubted underdog.
Just look at the stats: Williamson has 28.3% of the Black Caps' runs; he has a tournament-high average of 96.20; he is the only Kiwi in the top 24 run-scorers from the group stage.
Unflappable. Stoic. No-nonsense.
That's been Williamson out in the middle, and it was also him on Monday as he fielded questions about the team's dependency on him and its low chances of getting through to the final.
"For everybody, it starts afresh tomorrow," he said.
Something sure needs to change if New Zealand's players are to reach their second straight World Cup final.
It might have helped that the team has had a six-day break since its last match of the gruelling group stage, a defeat to England that meant New Zealand went into the semifinals on the back of three straight losses.
It definitely helps that paceman Lockie Ferguson is back after a minor hamstring injury.
Yet, it appears inescapable that the Kiwis are facing a huge ask to take down a team they lost to 4-1 in an ODI series this year and which won seven out of eight group games in the World Cup group stage.
Williamson was bullish about New Zealand's chances.
"We are in the top four now and I think, if we are reflecting back on the round robin, we definitely deserve to be here," he said.
"Whether we are underdogs or not, it doesn't really matter. It's about how we turn up tomorrow and how we commit to the plans we want to implement and try to play with that freedom. Every side has beaten one another on a number of occasions. It is a semifinal, there are perhaps a few more external parts to this match which are a little different from others."
He was likely referring to the pressure of the occasion, which India captain Virat Kohli has said will not get to his team despite the weight of expectation back home.
Williamson might also be referring to the conditions, which are forecast to be cloudy and relatively cool for this time of year. That would give New Zealand's bowlers ideal overhead conditions to get into India's openers, KL Rahul and especially Rohit Sharma, who enjoyed such a fine group-stage campaign.
New Zealand, after all, did dismiss India for 92 in Hamilton in January. Kohli didn't play that day.
Asked how keen New Zealand was to answer back to the critics saying India was the big favorite, Williamson said: "I don't think fired up is the right term."
That certainly is Williamson's manner.
He has showed a cool head in this tournament, with openers Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, and Henry Nicholls regularly falling early in the innings. Williamson, widely viewed as among the best four batsmen in all forms of cricket beside Kohli, Joe Root, and Steve Smith, has just stuck around with his tight technique and disciplined stroke play.
He hasn't been as quick at racking up the runs as others — his strike rate is a relatively stodgy 77.20 — but he hasn't really had the chance to.
"From my perspective, it's going out and trying to play my role as best I can to try and move the team forward," he said, fending off another question about the team's reliance on him.
"And that doesn't change going into tomorrow."
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80