IPL 2021: The futile genius of Kane Williamson in a fragile Sunrisers Hyderabad line-up
Kane Williamson is on his haunches, his head sunk into his knees in despair. Vijay Shankar has just chopped a short ball from Avesh Khan on to his stumps to become the seventh man to fall. It was climbing, it was wide, it was not exactly the best one to have a slog at; short third man was up, Shankar had the space to go to off side instead. It wasn’t the first time a Sunrisers Hyderabad Indian middle-order batsman had made a low-percentage choice in this match, or in the matches before this one, or in earlier editions of the Indian Premier League.
It is just what they do, more often than not. It is probably a franchise issue more than a personnel one, for there are many other second or even third-rung Indian batsmen who are assets, or at least not liabilities, for many other franchises. It remains a persistent headache for the Sunrisers after all these years, and ultimately, is theirs to handle.
For the moment, we are concerned with the abiding genius of Williamson, and how it continues to create hope for his team despite being surrounded by a bunch that keeps finding it difficult to even turn over the strike to him.
Against Delhi Capitals on Sunday, he arrived with R Ashwin turning it so much that Williamson lost his balance and even wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant failed to gather the ball down the leg side. And as soon as Jonny Bairstow departed, Williamson would have known the lone furrow was his to plough, yet again.
For at the other end was Virat Singh, who was to be beaten by Avesh, Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Axar Patel in the 14 deliveries he endured to scrape four runs.
If this was a television, the contrast setting would have maxed out at 100. The ninth over from Mishra was when Williamson appeared to have entered the coveted zone. The wily old leggie pushed one straighter and fuller. Williamson calmly swept him for four. Mishra gave the next one, a legbreak, some air. Now Williamson reverse-swept for four more. Never short of tricks, Mishra got the last ball of the over to kick awkwardly, but Williamson played it safely out to point as if he were now in a Test match.
Four balls later, he reverse-swept Ashwin from outside leg stump for four. It is staggering that not only is he able to conceive such vastly varied responses, he is also able to execute them so often.
Meanwhile, Kedar Jadhav had a charge at Mishra, stopped midway as if the light had turned red and was comprehensively stumped. Abhishek Sharma played all around a straightforward delivery from Axar and went leg-before.
Wonder what goes through Williamson’s head at the non-striker’s end seeing this pack of cards collapse at the slightest gust of wind so many times. Even as a viewer, you can’t help but fume at how unfailingly soft, needless and regular these dismissals are.
Williamson, as always, is not giving anything away in the press conference after the game. “There were a lot of valuable partnerships through the innings,” he offers with all the polite professionalism and positivity he can muster after a gut-buster of a night where you lose off the last ball after having run one short in the Super Over. Value there was a lot indeed, Kane, only most of it was off your bat.
Despite the chase threatening to become a wreck, Williamson still sees a win in it. Kagiso Rabada has bowled a tight over but Williamson spoiled his party, stepping out to the last ball and lifting it over mid-off for four.
First ball of another over, Mishra gives him neither pace nor flight to work with. He goes back, makes room and flat-bats it somehow past extra cover for four to keep Sunrisers’ hopes alive.
His shirt is stuck to his torso drenched in sweat, he keeps gasping for breath between deliveries but still labours back for his twos and his partners’ occasional twos.
All that running and calculating and ingenuity seem set to be unable to prevent a single-digit run loss but there is an utterly unlikely near-saviour in J Suchith to set up a Super Over. The ultimate end, though, as it seems to be the lot of this wretched bunch, is heartbreak.
That Williamson is the top-scorer in the match will be scant consolation, and will be a forlorn footnote even as Prithvi Shaw’s name remains in the score book as Player of the Match.
What could Sunrisers have done differently, Williamson is asked. “We would have wanted to do most parts of our game just a little bit better.” Of course.
This side has already failed to chase 150 twice this season, albeit minus Williamson, and their only win has come after their bowlers restricted the opposition to a mere 120.
But Williamson sees “plenty of positives” as they leave Chennai and head to Delhi for their next leg. He says conditions could be similar in Delhi and hopes Sunrisers’ experience in Chennai will help them do better up north. Who has the heart to tell him it is more likely to be more of the same old story?
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