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'Knee held up pretty well' - Williamson marks return from injury with half-century

Mitchell Santner also got a solid workout after having jarred his knee in England

Deivarayan Muthu
Kane Williamson punished anything that was remotely short and wide  •  ICC via Getty Images

Kane Williamson punished anything that was remotely short and wide  •  ICC via Getty Images

Kane Williamson marked his return from a six-month injury layoff with a fluent fifty in New Zealand's warm-up game against Pakistan in Hyderabad.
Playing only as a specialist batter, Williamson walked in at No. 3 after New Zealand lost Devon Conway for a duck and stabilised their chase of 346 with a 49-ball half-century. He extended his tally to 54 off 50 balls before retiring out with New Zealand at 141 for 1 after 18 overs.
Williamson aims to both bat and field in New Zealand's second warm-up fixture against South Africa in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday but will not participate in New Zealand's World Cup opener against defending champions England in Ahmedabad on October 5.
Williamson's improved fitness comes as a massive boost for New Zealand. At one point, it seemed like he would miss the entire World Cup, but he made a remarkable recovery to return to action. He had ruptured his ACL in March, the opening match of IPL 2023, and had to undergo surgery. He continued his rehab with the New Zealand side that toured England for four T20Is and four ODIs in August and September earlier this year.
After putting his feet up in the first innings on Friday, Williamson tested them out and forged a 137-run partnership with Rachin Ravindra, who opened the batting in place of Will Young.
Williamson was fairly cautious in the early exchanges, letting Hasan Ali's outswingers go outside off. He even looked in some discomfort and hobbled between the wickets while sneaking in a leg-bye. But then he lined up tearaway Haris Rauf for a triptych of fours in the seventh over. Despite Pakistan packing the off side, Williamson used his wrists to find the gaps with precision. This prompted Pakistan's bowlers to shift their lines straighter, but Williamson was ready to pick them away through the leg side.
"Just great to get through some batting out in the middle and be part of a match, which was really nice and it [knee] held up pretty well," Williamson said after New Zealand sealed victory. "[It needed] a little bit of icing afterwards but it's all part of the process. Yeah, it wasn't a reality certainly five months ago and [I've] been quite fortunate with some of that recovery and to be named in the squad is really exciting for me and just really looking forward to getting out there again. It was nice to do that today.
"It was largely pretty good, which was pleasing. Nice to sort of build on that. It was a fantastic hit-out obviously. Pakistan are an outstanding side. I mean both teams were trying to get what they wanted out of it, in terms of bowlers getting overs they needed and time in the legs. So, it's an exercise, but also nice to compete and do all those things. As a bowling unit and batting unit, plenty to take away from it. There's always things to work on and it was a great batting performance today. It was a really good surface and it's nice that we were able to put together partnerships and get time in the middle."
Head coach Gary Stead was also pleased with Williamson's workout and outlined the plan for the next warm-up match against South Africa.
"It was great to see Kane out there albeit only with the bat today," Stead told NZC media after the game. "We're hoping he will field 20-25 overs in the next game and we are slowly building him up towards that and making sure he can land and dive and do what he needs to do in the field to take full part for us in the future parts of the tournament.
"It was great to see Kane looking like he hadn't been away from the game. So, awesome to see and I think pretty warming overall from the team perspective that we know he's pretty close to getting to full fitness; not quite there yet, but we have another step on the way back today."
Pakistan could have cut Williamson's innings short on 36, but Imam-ul-Haq dropped the catch at extra cover. Williamson then unfurled a variety of sweeps, including the reverse, against the spinners. He reached his fifty with a hard-run single off seamer Mohammad Wasim in the 18th over. Williamson's right knee was heavily strapped during warm-ups in the lead-up to the game, but overall he ticked quite a few World Cup boxes during his comeback.

Santner also impresses on return

Allrounder Mitchell Santner also made a successful return from injury, taking 2 for 39 in eight overs against Pakistan. After having jarred his knee in the second ODI against England at the Ageas Bowl, Santner did not feature in the last two games of the four-match series.
On Friday, he took the new ball and handcuffed both Babar Azam and Abdullah Shafique in the powerplay. Then, when Shafique charged at him to manufacture a stroke, Santner went wide of the crease, shortened his length and had him stumped for 14 off 25 balls. Later, he returned to have Babar dragging a sweep to Daryl Mitchell at wide long-on. He didn't complete his quota, with New Zealand opting to give their other bowlers a chance to bowl.
In all, New Zealand used eight bowlers, with Santner being the pick of the lot. Ravindra, the other left-arm spin-bowling allrounder, struggled with the ball, leaking 60 runs in eight overs. But he made a statement with the bat, scoring a boundary-laden 97 off 72 balls. Young is set to be New Zealand's first-choice opener along with Devon Conway, but Ravindra's recent batting form will give New Zealand's team management a selection headache. Ravindra had also made 61 off 48 balls from No. 7 against England in the Lord's ODI last month.
With or without Young, Ravindra could potentially make the XI when New Zealand visit spin-friendly Chennai for their matches against Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo