CHRISTCHURCH: The pitch is a vivid green, and the forecast is for rain, but bury caution, Kane Williamson said; “freedom” is his call to action with the bat. The reasoning is simple: it is what has worked for New Zealand at home, in the past. Thrashed in India, and beaten in South Africa, the hosts now seek to regain the dominance they had had at home, between 2013 and 2015. That attacking blueprint, Williamson said, is what New Zealand must return to. “It’s important when you come off the back of that Indian tour, that you come here and play with some freedom, and express our skills,” he said. “When we do that we play our best cricket. That’s our challenge going into this big home summer. There’s always pressure in international sport, but it’s important that we deal with that and play with freedom without trying too hard.”
New Zealand’s most recent home Test had also been at Hagley Oval, and Williamson drew lessons from Brendon McCullum’s first innings from that game. Having come to the crease at 32 for 3 on the first morning, McCullum cut loose in memorable style, crashing 21 boundaries, walloping six sixes, hitting 145 from 79 balls, and breaking the record for fastest Test hundred in the process. “If you look at the last Test here, for example, when we lost the toss on a tough surface which did quite a bit, we saw an innings from Brendon McCullum which was in total contrast to my innings. I took the approach of trying to play late and attack when I thought there was a ball in my area. I got seven off almost 70 deliveries. Brendon was the complete opposite. It was an example of someone playing with complete freedom. I think that can come with the confidence of knowing your own conditions.”
Among the batsmen Williamson expects to carry the flag is opener Tom Latham, who was among the better New Zealand batsmen in India, hitting a fifty in each Test. Though only 24, Latham is now the senior partner in the opening combination, following the axing of Martin Guptill. He has played 25 Tests and so far managed an average of 38. “Tom has been around a long time in the New Zealand set up. For a while he has been considered a leader in this side. He has been performing very well. He’s a strong leader within the group, and maybe he’ll take on that little bit of extra responsibility – not just with opening the batting, but also to play with that freedom.” Opening alongside him will be 28-year-old Auckland batsman Jeet Raval, who will make his debut in this Test. Raval had made a steady start to his domestic season when he was called into the Test side, and Williamson described him as a consummate builder of innings.
“Jeet has been a consistent performer for a long time, and he knows how to score runs. I guess he’s a guy that can bat a long period of time. In some ways there are similarities between the two openers. Both are quite headstrong. Both will be challenged in this series by a very good seam-bowling attack. “Whenever you make your debut there’s some unknowns, not having experienced the step up in international cricket. Naturally, there are some nerves there. We’ve chatted. It’s a matter of not changing too much – he has been successful with what he has done. It’s a matter of applying a simple game plan – all those sorts of things that he has been doing well, and earned him his selection.” Though he expected his own team to make good use of home conditions, Williamson remained wary of Pakistan, and their good away record. “Home advantage is a good thing, I think, but it provides opportunities for both sides, and a side like Pakistan who have toured well for a while now will know that. They’ll expect their seamers to do well. It’s about making those adjustments of length, as you come away from the subcontinent and on to our surfaces.”