Siddarth Ravindran (ESPNcricinfo)
In most Twenty20 matches, the brevity of the format allows teams a chance to mount a comeback even if the scorecard makes for grim reading. This did not seem like one of those matches. Kane Williamson showed off his increasing proficiency in the format with a maiden T20 century to lead Northern Knights to their highest score, and Trent Boult and Tim Southee underlined their customary threat with the new ball to leave Cobras on the mat.
By the time the rain came down in the eighth over of the chase, the asking rate was nearing 13 and saved Cobras from what was shaping to be an hour of minimising the margin of defeat.
At the start of the year, Williamson was not seen as someone who could play Twenty20s. Everything about him seemed old-school, from the manner in which he batted – lacking the glamorous mega hits the fans and the format loves – to the way in which he celebrated his centuries – with a mild wave of the bat. He hadn’t played a single game in the format in all of 2013.
In 2014, though, he has been immense in Twenty20s, averaging over 40, striking at 137, and almost doubling his aggregate in the format. In Raipur, he showed how versatile his game is. His first 15 runs all came behind the wicket as he used the pace of the bowlers. He picked off four successive twos in the fourth over, nudging the ball in the gaps and running hard to signal a shift in momentum after a tight start from Cobras bowlers.
There had been plenty of close calls for both him and opening partner Anton Devcich early on: in the first over itself, there was a mix-up and Williamson was nearly run-out; in the second, there was an unintentional four for him to third man as he was late in leaving the ball; in the third, Devcich just beat the throw from point; in the fourth, a Williamson top edge flew for six over fine leg; in the fifth, Devcich was reprieved at short fine leg by Justin Kemp, who hurt his hand attempting a low catch.
Williamson and Devcich capitalised on that fortune to build a 140-run stand at more than 10 an over. Williamson was superb at placing the ball behind the stumps, and used the inside-out chip to good effect, while Devcich unveiled a series of sweeps and reverse-sweeps. The acceleration came in the middle of the innings, with 74 runs arriving in a five-over spell – there was also a 37-ball sequence in which there was only one dot delivery. The next scoreless ball was in the 14th over when Devcich was run out.
Daniel Flynn followed for a duck, but BJ Watling kept the frenetic pace up with a 20-ball cameo in which he feasted on Kemp. Williamson was muscling the ball around by this stage, including a powerful hit to cow corner for six off Rory Kleinveldt.
Charl Langeveldt, who hasn’t played a competitive game in nearly a year, delivered several yorkers to stifle the runs and for a brief while it seemed as though Williamson might struggle to reach his hundred. He got there in grand style, though, with a stunning shot that sailed over cover for six even though he was flopping over towards the leg side. That also took Knights beyond 200, to a score that looked beyond Cobras’ reach.
A full-strength Cobras line-up would have had Dale Steyn, Sunil Narine and the Ram Slam’s most successive bowler, Beuran Hendricks. Instead, a severely weakened Cobras were taken apart by a team that had already played three matches at the same venue.