Williamson (97*), Latham (86) put New Zealand in control
Kane Williamson made smooth progress and Tom Latham was assured, as New Zealand ended a dominant first day on 243-2, having been put in to bat by Jason Holder on a pitch whose colour was indistinguishable from the outfield.
The bowlers, particularly seamers, were expected to dominate. But the fans who came to the Seddon Park in Hamilton got to see a masterclass from their national captain.
It’s a good thing New Zealand have managed their COVID-19 situation well enough to have mask-free attendances at the stadiums – properly appreciating a Williamson masterclass needs a free range of facial expressions. On losing the toss, Williamson said he would have bowled first. He then proceeded to show how Jason Holder’s decision to bowl could be made irrelevant.
Williamson was within touching distance of a 22nd Test match century, having batted from the time he came in the middle as if he had been on a steady red-ball diet for months, instead of taking part in the most intense T20 competition in the world.
He was batting on a serene 97 at stumps, having come in as early as the fifth over. That was the only period of play when West Indies were at parity with New Zealand. Debutant Will Young had been trapped in front by Shannon Gabriel a ball after being reprieved with a dropped catch behind the stumps courtesy Shane Dowrich, and New Zealand were 14-1 in four overs.
Thereafter, Latham and Williamson put on 154 runs for the second wicket to grind West Indies down. When Latham fell, bowled by a peach from Kemar Roach, Ross Taylor joined Williamson and the runs kept coming. The unbroken third-wicket stand was already worth 75, and West Indies were reduced to bowling Kraigg Brathwaite in the last over of the day to just finish the day’s play quickly.
Early rains meant the first session was washed out, with the remaining two sessions elongated, but although 85 overs had been budgeted for, a pace-heavy West Indies bowled only 77 despite another extra half hour being tacked on at the end of the day.
Latham and Williamson ensured most of those overs went New Zealand’s way, although a somewhat tardy West Indies bowling attack made their jobs easier. They had to negotiate potentially tough conditions, against an attack that should have fancied itself to make the most of getting first use a lush green pitch.
But, a combination of poor lines by the West Indies bowlers and exemplary control by Williamson and Latham, meant West Indies’ advantage on winning the toss was negated entirely.
Latham was compact, content to leave deliveries all day long if needed but pouncing on any errors in length. Williamson was a bit more adventurous in terms of getting bat on ball, but every bit as controlled in his shot-making. Williamson leaned into his drives with trademark elegance, and on the rare occasions when a delivery spit at him or did something unexpected, his hands and wristwork were nimble enough to negotiate the ball.
Latham had a stroke of luck when he flashed at a short and wide one to the keeper, off Holder in the penultimate over of the first session. There was an audible noise as the ball went past bat, but only Darren Bravo at first slip half-appealed and the rest of the West Indies fielders, including the bowler and captain, were silent.
Replays showed a spike on Ultraedge as the ball passed the bat, but Latham went on to double his then score of 43, eventually out for 86 when Roach got a full ball that was angled into him to straighten and cannon into the stumps via an inside edge.
At the start, West Indies’ seamers couldn’t find the right length, and allowed Latham and Williamson to gauge the pitch better with several balls they didn’t have to get their bats near to. Holder’s natural back of length was such that balls from there would carry over the stumps.
Roach mixed some testing deliveries with a whole bunch that were too far outside off to threaten the stumps, while Gabriel offered scoring opportunities in between his on-target deliveries.
After the first session, the bowlers attacked the stumps a lot more, but by then, New Zealand’s second-wicket pair were well set. The only moment of cheer for the rest of the day arrived via Latham’s wicket.
And it was not so much cheer as solemnity, with Roach – recently bereaved due to the death of his father – sinking on one knee and staring at the pitch when he broke through Latham’s defences. (ESPNCricinfo)