Secret behind killer Steve Smith blow
NEW Zealand captain Kane Williamson has earned rave reviews for his performances this World Cup but he showed he doesn't need a bat in his hands for his genius to shine through, even if his team was hammered by the Aussies at Lord's.
Williamson's opposite number Aaron Finch spoke in the lead-up to the game against Australia about how best to nullify the Kiwis' best batsman and while the 28-year-old couldn't inspire his troops to victory, he landed at least one telling blow with his captaincy as he got the better of Steve Smith.
When the former Aussie captain walked to the crease with his side in trouble at 2/38, fans at Lord's decked out in green and gold will have been hoping for a Smith rescue act, the likes of which had become commonplace before he was banned for his role in the ball tampering scandal.
But Williamson - and his partner in crime Lockie Ferguson - outsmarted Smith. In his second over, Ferguson - who can hit the 150km/h mark - looked like he had a plan to bowl short to Australia's No. 4.
The leg-side field was unlike anything we'd seen all day - or anything we'd seen for Smith all tournament - as Williamson got funky. He had a fine leg, a leg gully, a shortish forward square leg and another man closer to the pitch than normal at mid-wicket.
There was no mid-on suggesting Smith wasn't going to get many full deliveries to drive. It would have been an unusual sight in Test cricket but in the one-day format the field was even more experimental.
Second ball of his second over, Ferguson steamed in wearing his customary black shoes and banged in a bouncer. Given the field, Smith was no doubt anticipating some chin music and he was ready for it, rocking onto the back foot and playing a full-blooded hook shot.
After connecting like he did, Smith would have expected to see the ball screaming to the fence. But standing at leg gully, Martin Guptill - who'd dropped two catches already in the day - showed astonishing reactions to fly to his left and pull off a one-handed blinder.
Smith couldn't believe it and didn't want to leave. He hung around at the crease trying to digest what had happened, before finally accepting his fate and trudging slowly back towards the most famous pavilion in world cricket with only five runs next to his name.
Williamson 1, Smith 0.
"We've done that a few times before," Williamson said of the plan. "Obviously Steve's a world-class player. I suppose we tried to be a little bit creative, but it certainly took something pretty special, despite the plan, to hang on to that catch, one of the best catches that you'll ever see.
"Whether he (Guptill) is there for a pull shot, I can't quite reveal that but he was there for something in the air, and that was nice, and he held on to it beautifully."
Since Smith established himself as one of the world's best batsmen and put himself in the running to be considered Australia's best since Don Bradman, opposition captains have often been at a loss as to how to bowl to him.
Get outside off stump and he'll cover drive you, get too straight and he'll punish you through the leg side. Smith really doesn't have a weakness but Williamson and Co. came to Lord's with a plan for the right-hander and reaped the rewards, even if it wasn't exactly in the fashion they expected.
Ferguson echoed his captain's words when he suggested Guptill wasn't necessarily at leg gully for a full blooded horizontal bat stroke as he explained the plan to Smith, but the fast bowler was happy with the end result nonetheless.
"That was the plan for sure, yeah," Ferguson said sarcastically as reporters cracked up laughing. "The way he plays is a bit unconventional and some of the ways you have to get him out are a bit unconventional too.
"Our plan was to set him up a little bit, thinking that the straight bumper was coming and not give it to him, then try and surprise him (with a bouncer).
"Ideally not smoke it like he did but Guppy was definitely there for the catch - more off the glove - but it was a great catch."
In the trans-Tasman rivalry, the personal duel between Williamson and Smith is an interesting one. Smith is little more than a year older than Williamson and their careers have followed similar trajectories.
They both emerged on the scene as young guns then rose to become captains and the best batsmen in their respective countries. But while Williamson won the battle at Lord's, Smith won the war.
He celebrated a seventh win from eight games with his teammates after playing a starring role in the field. Given a rare opportunity at the bowling crease, Smith took his first ODI wicket since 2014 when Colin de Grandhomme picked out Usman Khawaja's in the deep and the ex-captain took a one-handed screamer at mid-wicket to dismiss Tom Latham as he flew completely horizontal to the ground.
The spectacular feat of athleticism was a moment to remember as the Aussies crushed New Zealand by 86 runs.