The Moeraki Boulders are always there, just like the support staff; Purakanui Falls’ three-tiered relentless flow is quite like the bowling of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Colin de Grandhomme; Mt. Cook stands tall in the landscape similar to Kyle Jamieson; Ngauruhoe volcano throws hot stones much like the short-pitched deliveries of Neil Wagner; Coromandel Range — which acts as a spine to the peninsula —reminds us of Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Henry Nicolls, Ross Taylor in the batting line-up; the Cape Reinga lighthouse hardly misses anything same as B.J. Watling; like the many glacial lakes, skipper Williamson stays cool and calm, and these natural wonders and individuals are what New Zealand is all about.
Like nature, these individuals too have evolved, achieving what had eluded them — an International Cricket Council title. When Williamson, along with his teammates posed with the World Test Championship Mace, after beating India by 8 wickets, the brightness on their face was as vibrant as sunrise. Of all the six days of the final, the last one was the only day that told us it was not the usual English summer. No rain interventions, no gloomy clouds hovering above. It remained sunny all day.
Skipper Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara stepped into what looked like batting-friendly conditions — being 32 runs ahead with a score of 64-2 — but it was not easy. The Kiwis had different plans. The ball did not move like it did on the first five days but the subtle changes in the line, length and angles from Southee and Jamieson — who bowled in tandem till drinks — changed the equation of the match. In the first hour, both batsmen fell. Suddenly, a New Zealand win was on the cards.
Jamieson had trapped Kohli lbw with an in ducking ball in the first innings. In the second innings, the tall bowler bowled the incoming ones, which the batsman managed to negotiate. Soon, a short of good length, outside of off stump ball created doubt in Kohli’s mind. It started going away instead and by the time he had realised it, Watling had grabbed the thick edge. The giant got rid of Pujara as well by mixing the incoming and outgoing deliveries. While Pujara waited for it to come in, an away going one kissed the edge and travelled straight to Taylor in the slips. India were 72-4.
India required runs, they didn’t come. New Zealand looked for wickets, they got them. At this point, only two results looked possible: draw or a New Zealand win. Boult and Wagner bowled unchanged till lunch.
While the two left-handers survived, Ajinkya Rahane had snicked a ball going down the leg Southee to Watling.
Runs did not come thickly, though Rahane and Pant ticked the score with occasional boundaries. The wicket-keeper played his way. He started with a risky single. Played a reverse scoop, rehearsed other scoops at the non-striker’s end. He showed he was there to score runs, unlike other batsmen. Multiple times, he advanced down the pitch to charge but missed every single time. He did everything until he skied one off Boult to Nicolls, again coming down the track!
Post lunch, just before Pant’s wicket, Wagner and Watling dismissed Jadeja. The partnership between the left-handers didn’t last as long as India would have wanted. Credit to the Kiwis. They bowled in tight areas with an aggressive fieldset and hardly looked out of place. The bowlers displayed fine bowling and stepped up every single time; the fielders dived to save runs and grab catches; despite dislocating his finger, Watling who was playing his last Test gave his everything and kept wickets beautifully.
Look at Mohammad Shami’s dismissal! He had hit two well-timed boundaries. He swung the bat hard to a full delivery off Southee, the ball flew over slips for four. These were valuable runs for India. Now, Williamson stationed Latham at fly slip. The very next ball Shami, again going for a swing, lobbed it to Latham. Isn’t this top quality cricket?
Gradually the Kiwis made us believe that only one result was possible.
Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah followed one another after doing the best they could with the bat. Within a few overs after Jadeja’s dismissal, India was all out for 170. And New Zealand needed 139 runs to win in 53 overs.
Ravichandran Ashwin pulled New Zealand back by scalping the wickets of the openers. But the hunger to take wickets disappeared, as Taylor and Williamson kept inching closer to victory. Both remained not out, the former on 47 and the latter on 52. They scored 56 runs off boundaries. Indian bowlers did not trouble them. Taylor, as was his wont, flicked Shami to square leg for four to go beyond the set target. With that boundary, New Zealand broke the old mould and moved into a new chapter of their cricketing history.
This historic win will provide a fillip to New Zealand cricket that their performances over the years past hadn’t. They have shown that Test cricket is the ultimate and you have to play it consistently well to stake your claims as the best in the business. Williamson’s team truly represents the character of Test cricket — dignity and grace all the way.