Cricket World Cup: Kane Williamson’s reading of pitch, leadership in the field was the difference – Mike Hesson
Kane Williamson led New Zealand to an 18-run win over India. © AFP

Mike Hesson, the man who coached New Zealand to the final of the World Cup four years ago, believes that Kane Williamson‘s team was able to beat India in the semi-final of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup on Wednesday largely because of how well their skipper read the conditions at Old Trafford and how he kept his cool while manoeuvring his players in a knockout match.

Writing in his column for stuff.co.nz, Hesson praised Williamson’s leadership skills for keeping India in trouble in pursuit of a target of 240.

“Kane assessed it beautifully, kept [Trent] Boult for two spells, which was important, tried Colin de Grandhomme for two overs but didn’t keep milking it when the ball wasn’t nibbling. Then Jimmy Neesham picked up the slack in the middle and at the end,” wrote Hesson, who coached the Black Caps from 2012-2018.

“Kane never let the game drift and that was so vital. During the home summer we were sometimes critical that the game was left to drift, and there were always worries about the fifth bowler. This time Kane was happy to leave Neesham till towards the end which was an important factor as New Zealand could keep attacking with Boult, Kane brought him back and removed Ravi Jadeja which halted India’s momentum again.

(READ: With a shot in the arm, rejuvenated New Zealand are back on the prowl)

“Kane doesn’t fake it. He doesn’t say push your chest out, just be authentic in what you do and if you do that we back ourselves to beat anybody on our day. It was our day, and that’s a great testament to the leadership and indeed the whole squad. Kane Williamson, take a bow all the way to Lord’s.”

Williamson, upon winning the toss on Tuesday, opted to bat under grey skies. He then scored 67 off 95 balls after Martin Guptill’s wretched World Cup continued, before Ross Taylor‘s 74 helped New Zealand finish on 239/8 in their 50 overs on the reserve day of the semi-final.

Hesson, who has worked closely with Williamson, felt that the Black Caps skipper’s awareness of the conditions was what made the ultimate difference between winning and losing in Manchester.

“I was so happy to see Kane keep attacking,” he wrote. “He kept Matt Henry going for seven overs and he was outstanding and set the tone. We knew that Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson were going to be good, but we needed Henry to stand up and his lengths were exceptional, ultimately he created three opportunities and changed the game.

(READ: India ultimately undone by the day that threatened to come much earlier)

“Even on the second morning, Williamson’s counterpart Virat Kohli was happy allowing ones and New Zealand’s batsmen were only looking for ones and twos which suggested they were quite happy with 240. India were happy with that as well, which showed a maturity from New Zealand in understanding conditions in many ways better than India.”

Kane Williamson Ross Taylor World Cup 2019
Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor scored half-centuries at Old Trafford. (Image: Twitter/@BLACKCAPS

Hesson also commended Williamson and Taylor for their stubbornness with the bat, which kept India from making serious inroads.

“It seems like days ago, but when Williamson was batting with Ross Taylor, I was one of those saying they should show more intent and increase the tempo,” he wrote. “But, if you look back, our two best players were struggling during that middle phase which showed it was a very tough wicket at Old Trafford, That gave me confidence and certainly gave the partnership confidence as they built and got New Zealand within sight of 250.

(READ: Ravindra Jadeja’s lonesome fight not enough for India)

“Most sides would have gone hard at the Indian attack, been bowled out for 150 and complained about the surface. The way Henry Nicholls initially, then Williamson and Taylor batted, although sedately, showed their experience and cricket smarts in assessing and understanding the conditions. It was a clever tactic, and it was led by the captain. New Zealand have played on so many different surfaces throughout the World Cup, they’ve gained from those experiences.”

New Zealand are now in their second World Cup final, having made it to the summit in 2015 where they lost to Australia at the MCG. Hesson, recalling the experience of that joyous ride that ended in heartbreak, felt that it was time for redemption.

“One thing that Brendon McCullum left as a memory with the current squad was, when we left Melbourne he said to those carrying on: ‘magnificent achievement, but in many ways you have to lose a final to win one’. Williamson, Guptill, Taylor, Boult, Tim Southee and Henry played in that final four years ago and they’re desperate to go one better. Now’s their chance to go out and attack it and take it on. There are no rewards for sitting back,” he wrote.

“In many ways it needs to be considered as just another game of cricket, and regardless of who we’re playing we’ve got the confidence to know we can put the opposition under pressure. If we do that for long enough we can push them to a point where they can’t return. I would love it to be Australia. From the memory of 2015 there are so many guys desperate for redemption. If we play England, so be it, we clearly have no say but how good would it be to blow Australia off the park at Lord’s?”