Kane Williamson lauds New Zealand's 'cricket smarts' after series win

Next generation of fast bowlers also impress as New Zealand bury T20I series demons

Deivarayan Muthu
Kane Williamson and Tom Latham pose with the series trophy, New Zealand v India, 3rd ODI, Mount Maunganui, February 11, 2020

Kane Williamson and Tom Latham pose with the series trophy  •  Getty Images

No Trent Boult. No Lockie Ferguson. No Matt Henry. New Zealand's second line of fast men - Adam Milne and Seth Rance - are also recovering from injuries. To add to their troubles, Scott Kuggeleijn and Mitchell Santner were unavailable for the second ODI due to illness. Tim Southee, too, was sick at Eden Park, but still soldiered on to finish his ten overs and claim the prize scalp of India captain Virat Kohli.
New Zealand were so depleted during the second game that they needed their assistant coach Luke Ronchi to fill in as a substitute on the field. They'd also called up local lad R Majitha as a reserve player.
Despite being struck down by multiple injuries and illness, New Zealand found a way to beat India 3-0 and hand them their first bilateral ODI series whitewash in 22 years. This, after losing the preceding T20I series 5-0 from winning positions.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who had sat out the first two games in the ODI series because of injury, was particularly pleased with how the likes of Hamish Bennett and Kyle Jamieson stepped up in the absence of the seniors.
Bennett, who had been central to Wellington Firebirds clinching the 20-over Super Smash title earlier in the domestic season, changed up his pace and lengths smartly at Bay Oval. He also unveiled his knuckle ball at the death as his four strikes, including that of centurion KL Rahul, pinned India down to 296 for 7.
Jamieson, who had sparkled both with bat and ball on debut at Eden Park, his home ground, followed it with a fine new-ball spell at Bay Oval, where he castled Mayank Agarwal with a beauty.
"As you know on some of these surfaces with some short boundaries, the job of the bowlers is so important," Williamson said at the post-match press conference. "They also operated nicely in partnerships and we were able to hold our nerve in key moments. Today, was a great example of [it]. Once again we were put under pressure by India, but we were able to have a really good death phase, which helped us keep India to about a par total. A lot of positives in different areas, so it's an opportunity to build on this series and keep moving forward as an ODI side.
"An outstanding start from Kyle. Obviously, he has been around the squad for a little period of time. To get the opportunity to bowl with the new ball today and bowl really nicely in the first [second] ODI […] he's an exciting prospect. Coming in with that height does bring a point of difference - a great attacking weapon."
New Zealand's batting line-up had cracked under pressure in the T20I series - and they lost in two Super Over finishes - but they responded better in the ODIs. On Tuesday, Henry Nicholls and Martin Guptill forged a rapid 106-run opening stand, with both batsmen passing fifties. However, the hosts lost 4 for 61 after the opening partnership ended and gave India a sniff.
Tom Latham, one of the stars of the first match, and Colin de Grandhomme, though, shut Kohli and co. down with a calculated, unbeaten 80-run stand off 46 balls. While de Grandhomme was largely circumspect against the experienced Indian bowlers, he lined up Shardul Thakur's length balls and slower variations, taking him for 33 off nine balls at a strike rate of 366.66.
"I can't say one thing, but I think throughout the series the most pleasant thing could be the cricket smarts and the composure the guys had," Williamson said.
Gary Stead, who had taken a break and handed over the reins to bowling coach Shane Jurgensen for the ODIs, came in for heavy criticism over the past few days. But, Williamson opted not to read too much into his absence, and reiterated that the coach had taken his pre-planned leave.
"Yeah, we both have each others' numbers (laughs). We talk to each other," Williamson said. He's [Stead's] obviously thrilled with the performance and progression of the team and that's always the focus - for the side to keep developing and improving. And that's the message we have been speaking about for a long period of time ."
New Zealand are set to not only welcome back Stead for the two-match Test series, but also Ferguson and Boult. Ferguson had returned to action in the ongoing 50-over Ford Trophy for Auckland on Sunday. The fast bowler went wicketless but got through his ten overs, while Boult has been bowling in the New Zealand nets in the lead-up to the Test series, which begins with the first game at the Basin Reserve from February 21.
"Expecting all of those guys to be fit for the first Test and they're all tracking nicely," Williamson said. "So, yeah, it's an exciting opportunity, like I say, against one of the best sides in the world."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo