New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd Test, Wellington, 5th day March 27, 2012

Williamson finds the missing fight

ESPNcricinfo staff
New Zealand's batsmen had shown promise against South Africa's strong bowling attack but none displayed the temperament to play a long innings, until Williamson's battling hundred

Kane Williamson did what no other New Zealand batsman managed in this series. He crossed the three-figure mark and showed the temperament required to play South Africa's hostile attack, something the New Zealand line-up had lacked through the three Tests.

His hundred was far from flawless: he was dropped twice and survived a close call when the third umpire decided a catch by Alviro Petersen, at point, was not taken cleanly. The century was a fighting one. Williamson drove well, cut well, pulled well, but, more importantly, stayed at the crease well. He wore a few, got hit where it hurts and saw some of the senior batsmen come and go, but he stuck it out.

"I'm not quite sure Kane has realised what he has done just yet," Brendon McCullum said, "but in terms of New Zealand cricket history it will go down as one of the gutsier innings and one of the more fighting efforts on the last day against this sort of attack."

It was the kind of fighting effort New Zealand could have done with earlier in the series, which they have lost 0-1. Their totals may give the impression of a fragile, inexperienced line-up, but all of New Zealand's batsmen showed, at one point or another in the series, that they do have the ability to make it at Test level. They showed the ability to face some of the best bowlers in the world, but it was their mental game that let them down. They got in, they staved off South Africa's attack for a while and then gave it away.

Apart from McCullum and Ross Taylor, none of New Zealand's top-order batsmen had played more than 20 Tests coming into the series, yet everyone from Rob Nicol to Kruger van Wyk showed promise. In each case, though, that promise was stubbed out because, at some stage, the batsman lost concentration. When they got into positions of strength, they did not know how to stay there but Williamson gave them a small glimpse of how to play a long innings.

"I turn [a big ask] into small tasks, and take it one over at a time," Williamson said. "There's two of you so you can kind of halve the job, and all of a sudden one session, which might be 36 overs, becomes a lot simpler in terms of the thinking around it. We were just counting down the overs and splitting them in half."

Williamson remained at the crease for 75.5 overs, 44.4 of them with Nos. 7 and 8, van Wyk and Doug Bracewell. He said he never felt safe at the crease as South Africa attacked in waves, the biggest of which came early in his innings, after South Africa were disappointed that the umpires allowed Williamson to continue when they thought he had been caught at point. "It comes and goes a little bit," Williamson said of South Africa's aggression. "As you start getting underway and gathering a little bit of momentum, the opposition side tend not to say as much, and then if there's a debatable catch they come at you a little bit harder. They came quite hard after the catching incident, which is to be expected. It's about trying to weather that and fight through it."

Williamson used various tactics to deal with the pressure South Africa exerted: he blocked out a lot of what was said to him, and sometimes saw the lighter side of things, particularly when Dale Steyn was fuming after the debatable catch. "We decided to enjoy it, take it one ball at a time and experience it," Williamson said.

That sort of attitude will have to be applied more regularly if New Zealand hope to have sustained competitive spells against teams ranked higher than them. McCullum said New Zealand had identified the areas they needed to work on in what will be a busy Test year. "You have to bat for long and you have to make some really good decisions along the way," he said. "We haven't been able to do it through this series but we now know what we have to do to get better as a batting group."

Edited by Dustin Silgardo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Beau on March 29, 2012, 0:57 GMT

    Great knock, dropped catches and all. NZ batsmen, take note! High time for NZ to finally (finally!) start batting like they are playing a five day game. I think NZ put too much emphasis on winning Tests. If they really want to move up the ranks, they need to stop *losing* Tests. 3-day wins are great, and the bowling is looking the best it has since Bond's retirement (maybe even further back), but it wasn't the (admittedly excellent) SA bowlers who made the difference in this series. It was the stodgy, boring (AB's last 50 notwithstanding), and utterly effective top-order batting. In the modern Test arena, if a team can bat two sessions without losing a wicket, a loss is almost off the cards. AFTER reaching that point, go for the win. In fact, you could almost say the reverse is also true, since SA are far too conservative. They should plan like NZ if they want the #1 ranking - they've got the players to actually pull off all-out attack. NZ don't.

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2012, 22:02 GMT

    @gazzafanatic. SAs attack may not be the best since the WI quartet but I think its definately the most hostile and fearsome since then. I also think you are a bit harsh on the Eng attack. Yes they are predominately swing bowlers but its unfair to call them rank in the sub-continent. They actually performed fairly well v Pak in the UAE. It was their batsmen who were rank! I also don't know why you bother to mention the Aussies. Pattinson looks a genuine prospect, if injury doesn't ruin his career like injury has ruined R Harris career. Hard to comment on Cummins but I'd guess hes in the same basket as Pattinson. Harris, Siddle and Hilfenhaus are workman like bowlers. They would be excellent as 3rd or 4th bowlers but as long as they are the leaders of the attack Aus has no right to be considered as one of the best attacks going around. I understand you are talking about pace attacks but the best 3 bowling units going around are SA, Eng and Pak.

  • Zain on March 28, 2012, 16:22 GMT

    England on the other hand, have swing bowlers only (except Finn...), and I honestly think Australia has more varied fast bowling stock to form a unit capable of competing with SA (around the world...unlike Eng, whose seamers are rank outside of swinging conditions). If anyone disagrees, I will happily show you both the stats..and support that with logic to prove you wrong. (SA are short a spinner of quality of course...I am talking seam attack only)

  • Zain on March 28, 2012, 16:18 GMT

    A lot of people misunderstand the hype between the SA attack - comparing them to SA attacks of old , the great Aus & WI attacks ...and current Aus & ENg attacks. The comparisons to the former are nonsensical given how new the current crop is as a unit, and can only be made over time. What does stand out, and no one can dispute ,is the ABILITY to be the most COMPLETE seam unit over a SUSTAINED period of time. Steyn is THE best fast bowler (and proponent of swing) in the world (no one can honestly challenge that) who, going through a 'bad patch' has shown to be extremely economical and great support for Philander. Philander shows the potential to be the best seam bowler in the world (any disputes?), and Morkel is one of the most uncomfortable bowlers to face for his pace and bounce. Each of these is in the top 2 or 3 of their respective 'trades' of fast bowling...and now Morkel is beginning to show some discipline alongside the other two

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2012, 9:24 GMT

    Its worrying how much expectation is on Williamson. At 21 after only 12 test people are talking about Crowes 17 centuries and Flemings 7172 runs. The worst part is I can't help doing it myself.

  • ntokozo on March 28, 2012, 7:21 GMT

    @JG2704 continued: Why on earth does the fact that SA has "drawn 2 of the last 3 away series" cast doubt on the perfectness of their away record or otherwise? The point is that SA has not lost an away series since 2007 (a record England and others can only dream about). Full stop. Let us also not forget that those "last 3 tours" included a tour to the UAE (where England were whitewashed!) and to India (where nobody from outside the sub-continent has drawn, never mind won a series in a long time). I gather England were whitewashed in the ODIs there not so long ago? Not a bad record after all for SA when viewed in this light is it? The point is that SA has had rough away tours in alien conditions and has handled them far better than any other nation can claim (especially Eng). And yes, I have every right to point out that this is yet another AWAY series which SA has not lost, considering how mediocre other sides (esp. the so called number ones) have fared in away series in recent times.

  • ntokozo on March 28, 2012, 7:07 GMT

    @JG2704: The true number one will be decided when SA tour England. We knew this even before this series. Winning it 3 -0 was consequently irrelevant as most people would have still questioned SA's number one status and would have still seen the tour of Eng as the deciding one. There was no need to gamble and try to be number 1 now as this could only realistically happen if England messed up in Srilanka (which they look like doing at this point mind you). SA abandoned any thoughts of chasing the number one status when the first test was ended prematurely by bad weather. There was no need to continue chasing this on an uncertain anticipation that Eng might lose to SL; especially since (such efforts notwithstanding) the cricketing world would have regarded the Eng tour as the determinative one. The remote possibility of being a disputed number one was not proportional to the risk of drawing the series. SA would not have achieved much by winning it 2 - 0. Smith made the right decision.

  • christy on March 28, 2012, 5:37 GMT

    you know what? this attack isn't the best in years. it isn't even the best in the world right now. so what they can bowl fast australia, pakistan and england's are better. new zealand is just making excuses

  • A.J on March 28, 2012, 1:50 GMT

    New Zealand Lack test quality batsmen, yet they have one waiting in the wings and not being used. JESSE RYDER, I think he is the best test batsmen in the country and given time will make mountains of runs. Stop it with these hopeless make shift openers, put Macullum in to open and make Ryder part of the line up. Wagner will be eligible soon too. The problem is NZ have always had a really strong7, 8,9,10 in there line up in fact half their runs came after the fifth wicket when Cairns or Oram and Vettori, Macullum made runs. Now they have a long tail and look worse than ever. They need more spin out of Guptil/Williamson and with Wagner's ability to bat a bit it will strengthen the tail now that Martin is close to retiring. It must be: Guptil - Macullum - Williamson - Taylor - Ryder - Brownlie - Watling - Vettori - Wagner - Bracewell - Gillespie...... That's a good pace attack and a long batting line up with the class of Taylor and Ryder. Boult to come in if a bowler loses form

  • John on March 27, 2012, 22:55 GMT

    @Spelele ctd - Actually I'd have been really gutted Smith hadn't pushed on quicker and declared earlier. With the 3 pacemen you have at your disposal I'd have strongly fancied bowling out a NZ side where Vetori bats at 6

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