NEW DELHI: Kane Williamson walked the walk of a confident man as his team trained here at the Feroze Shah Kotla ahead of their mouth-watering World Twenty20 semi-final against England here on Wednesday (today).
Williamson’s confidence is certainly well-deserved.
The Black Caps have easily been the best side – and the only undefeated one – of the tournament so far and will be the favourites to seal a place in Sunday’s finale.
But the New Zealand captain is taking nothing for granted.
“I know that going into tomorrow, it’s a big, exciting match but our feet are firmly on the ground and we going to be running to perform our plans as best as we can,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Williamson and New Zealand have earned praise from all quarters over their ability to read the conditions right.
They have displayed the tactical flexibility required to win a major tournament by sacrificing pace and gambling with three spinners, a ploy that paid off in the tournament opener against hosts India.
The presence of three left-handers — Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali — in the England lineup could tempt him to try the trick again.
“In terms of Mike Hesson’s (New Zealand coach) and my perspective, we will pick horses for courses against the opposition. That philosophy won’t change,” he said.
England will go into the match with better knowledge of local conditions, having played their last two games at Kotla.
New Zealand have played their four group matches in four different venues before landing in a sixth Indian city for the semi-final.
“England’s been fortunate to play on these conditions a couple of times but I think in Twenty20 cricket, anything can happen,” said Williamson.
“That’s great, we’ve been out to see more of India than most opposition sides,” he added.
England skipper Eoin Morgan would like to believe his team peaked at the right time at the ongoing World Twenty20 while New Zealand were slightly premature going into Wednesday’s clash.
Williamson and his Kiwi team-mates have not put a foot wrong since landing in India, winning all four group matches without really breaking a sweat to qualify for the semi-finals as the tournament’s only unbeaten team.
For a side boasting an explosive batting order and a balanced attack to go with, England’s passage proved bumpier.
Even before they could soak in the atmosphere, England were blown away by a Chris Gayle century in their tournament opener against West Indies in Mumbai.
Joe Root sparked their recovery in the 230-run chase against South Africa but the narrow victory against Afghanistan’s modest resources exposed their frailties against spin bowling.
They looked a significantly better side, however, in Saturday’s 10-run win against champions Sri Lanka.
Jos Buttler underlined his limited overs worth with a belligerent fifty, the pacemen made regular inroads, Ben Stokes delivered a tidy final over and the team held their nerve to secure a victory that seemed to tick most of the boxes.
“In these tight tournaments you can’t get through to the semis unless you are playing good cricket, and that’s what we set out to do to give ourselves a chance,” coach Trevor Bayliss said.
“But it’s about peaking at the right time. I wouldn’t say we’ve played the perfect game yet — coaches are always looking for that absolutely perfect game, I don’t think it’s ever been played — but it’s what any team is striving to do.”
Having played their last two games at Kotla, England would also hope to cash in on their familiarity with the venue in contrast to their opponents who were on a mini-tour of India playing each of their four group games at different venues.
The trouble for England, however, is that New Zealand won all of them as the team, finalists in last year’s 50-over World Cup, strive to shed the tag of being cricket’s perennial bridesmaid.
Leading from the front, Williamson has also displayed the tactical flexibility needed to win a tournament like this.
New Zealand sprang a surprise in their tournament opener, picking three spinners in a gutsy gamble and went on to beat India, renowned for their batsmen’s comfort against the turning ball, in their own game.
Williamson repeated the ploy against Bangladesh in their final group match for a similar result, his immaculate pitch assessment in stark contrast to most of the visiting captains who struggled to read the track as if it was in Braille.
Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi have already forged a formidable partnership for the Kiwis, claiming 17 wickets between them in four matches.
And if Williamson has noticed England’s struggle against Afghanistan’s slow bowlers, the Kiwi captain will be tempted to harness Nathan McCullum’s control and accuracy in a three-pronged spin attack.
As demonstrated by Martin Guptill, the Kiwi batting does not lack firepower but what was more heart-warming for the fans is how batsmen like Colin Munro have tempered strokes according to situations.
“It hasn’t been the wham, bam... sort of way that T20 cricket has been,” batting coach Craig McMillan said after the victory against Bangladesh in their last group match.
“They have had to assess it... and have done a really good job of putting the runs on the board to give the bowlers something to work with.”