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New Zealand cruise to innings win despite Williams’ stoic ton

Sean Williams’ maiden Test century could not prevent Zimbabwe from crashing to defeat in the first match against New Zealand but it helped cushion the heavy innings loss.

Sean Williams
File Picture: Zimbabwe’s batsman Sean Williams celebrates after hitting the winning runs against Pakistan. Photo – AFP

Williams, who took over after Craig Ervine reached his first fifty in the format, put on 118 for the seventh wicket with captain Graeme Cremer and the pair spent 33.2 overs together to frustrate New Zealand.

Williams went on to hold the visitors at bay until 25 minutes before the tea break but once he was dismissed, Zimbabwe could not prevent the inevitable.

New Zealand’s attack were kept on the field for longer than they may have expected, after they had Zimbabwe reeling at 17 for 4 and plucked a fifth scalp on the third evening.

But the middle and lower order applied themselves well against swing from Tim Southee and Trent Boult, a short-ball barrage from Neil Wagner and spin from Ish Sodhi and Michael Santner, and took their innings deep to show improvement after their first-innings implosion.

Zimbabwe began the final day with some momentum after Ervine resumed from an overnight score of 49.

He reached his fifty off the second ball of the day but then played inside the line of a delivery from Boult and was given out caught behind by debutant umpire Michael Gough. Replays showed Ervine had not hit the ball and the noise was likely bat-pad.

He was replaced by Williams, who got a rough decision in the first innings when he was caught off the helmet. Now battling flu, Williams, who wasn’t on the field for New Zealand’s innings, put his illness aside to play an authoritative knock, the most assured of his three-Test career.

He began with a quartet of crisp drives off Southee and one off Boult, whose pace stayed in the upper 120s throughout the match. Kane Williamson tried to clog up his scoring area with two slips, two gullies, two short covers and a backward point but Williams was wise to the trick and responded with shots in the vacant leg side.

With Southee and Boult unable to dislodge Williams, Williamson turned to first-innings hero Neil Wagner and gave him a license to attack. Wagner hit Cremer on the thigh pad, the left shoulder and eventually the left fore-arm, which Cremer broke earlier this year. The Zimbabwe captain, as he did with ball in hand, fought through it all.

While Cremer content to hold his end, Williams profited off the short ball and brought out an audacious range of strokes, including a cheeky ramp off Wagner and sweetly timed sweeps. He used his feet, scored quickly, with his fifty coming off 63 balls, and found the boundary often – 11 times in the fifty and 21 in his entire innings.

Williams took his partnership with Cremer to 100 runs with a straight dive and put himself into the nineties with a cut. His captain was not around to usher him to the century. Cremer was given out lbw by umpire Paul Reiffel to a Sodhi legbreak that hit him above the pad. The height made the decision questionable but Cremer had to go.

Instead, Williams’ fellow sick-bed mate Regis Chakabva, whose tonsillitis meant he could not field, was at the other end when he outside edged a wrong ‘un to third man to bring up the fastest hundred by a Zimbabwean in Tests. Williams faced just 106 balls, one less than Neil Johnson.

Although clearly affected by exertion after his illness, Williams did not let the landmark distract him from keeping Zimbabwe fighting for as long as possible. He watched as Chakabva was bowled around the legs by Tim Southee with the old ball, but then holed out to deep mid-wicket off Santner to end a courageous knock.

Donald Tiripano was left to deal with the last rites, which came when he nicked off, with Zimbabwe five runs short of 300. ESPN