Williamson, Latham sweep the Indians off their feet

Sweep can be an effective weapon. Kane Williamson and Tom Latham, thriving on the right-left combination, pushed the level of the contest a notch higher with their outstanding patience — the essence of good batsmanship in the longer version of the game — and their ability to play the sweep with such proficiency.

SWEEPING SUCCESS: New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson (left) and Tom Latham handled the Indian attack with aplomb on day two of the first Test in Kanpur on Friday. Photo: V. V. Krishnan

Ball tossed up or rifled down the track hardly made any impact on the two Kiwis. They did have their anxious moments, ball hitting the pads, grazing the gloves, shouts for leg-before, a few edges too. But there was intense action. And there was splendid counter action too from the Kiwis — the sweep that led the Indians to weep.

The second day belonged to Williamson and Latham as they put New Zealand in a healthy state in the first Test here on Friday.

The pitch remained slow, asked questions of the batsmen and the bowlers, but the Indians were guilty of not capitalising on the few openings they got. When rain ruined the last session, New Zealand was 152 for one in reply to India’s 318. The host, on resumption, had added 27 runs in seven overs in the morning.

Williamson and Latham negotiated the attack with admirable skills. And also drove home the point that there were two set of bowlers in cricket, good-pitch and bad-pitch.

R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, short of consistency when the surface does not respond to their pleas, were bereft of ideas against a stubborn pair and showed that they belonged to the latter. They struggle when it comes to setting up the batsman and rely abundantly on assistance from the pitch. It is obvious coach Anil Kumble would need to work on this aspect this season.

The sight of Aravinda de Silva sweeping Anil Kumble first-ball was fascinating, a duel of highest category. Brian Lara sweeping and stepping out to Muttiah Muralitharan was breathtaking stuff. Graham Gooch once snatched away a World Cup semifinal from India by repeatedly sweeping the spinners. Such tactical acts enhance the class of the competition. As they did at the Green Park on Friday.

Best phase
Latham and Williamson gave ample proof of their capacity to excel in the middle and eventually produced the best phase of the match thus far. Latham swept with a lot of flair. Williamson stepped out audaciously to unsettle the bowlers and ‘kill’ the flight. As a result, Ashwin and Jadeja ran out of ideas. So did the seamers, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami.

The close-in fielders must have benefited by watching the batsmen’s footwork. Against the seamers, Williamson and Latham were quick to ‘leave’ or wade into a stroke, obviously sure of their off-stump.

It would be naïve to suggest the Indians did not try. It was their misfortune that Williamson and Latham were determined not to commit mistakes.

Martin Crowe, the best batsman ever from New Zealand, had spoken highly of Williamson. He always felt Williamson would end his career as the greatest Kiwi batsman. If not the greatest, this composed cricketer should end up next best to Crowe, given his temperament to grind the attack and play the ball on merit.

Williamson and Latham came together at 35 and constructed the innings with discipline. Latham was lucky at 47 when he swept a Jadeja delivery on to his boot for K.L. Rahul to snap the chance at short leg. But the ball had grazed the chin strap of the fielder. Latham survived and Jadeja was left grieving.

India fancied its chances of a breakthrough, but New Zealand battled. And then it rained to play the perennial spoilsport.