‘He timed it beautifully and got his match-up’ – Williamson and Powell laud Rutherford

West Indies

Sherfane Rutherford‘s unbeaten 68 off 39 balls on a two-paced Trinidad pitch proved the difference between West Indies and New Zealand at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy. This was the assessment of both captains Rovman Powell and Kane Williamson after West Indies successfully defended 149 to progress to the Super Eight.

Rutherford came into bat when West Indies were 22 for 4 inside the powerplay. It was only the second time that he was facing a ball in the powerplay, in 15 T20Is. He responded with a career-best effort that not only repaired the collapse but also put West Indies in a position of strength.

“We told the guys that somebody has to play a blinder,” Powell said after the match. “It wasn’t going to be an easy wicket because of the inclement weather. We always believe that individual brilliance in T20 cricket is needed some time and Sherfane’s innings was a fantastic knock. It gave us confidence and at the halfway mark, we believed [we could win].”

After working his way to 31 off 27 balls, Rutherford took Daryl Mitchell for a trio of sixes in the 19th over, which cost New Zealand 19 runs. Then, in the final over, he aced his match-up against left-arm fingerspinner Mitchell Santner, dispatching him for two fours and six.

“The margins in the match are fine and in conditions like that, two or three balls where the match-up suits, that can be the difference, Williamson said at his post-match press conference. We saw a fantastic knock from Rutherford and he certainly timed it beautifully and got his match-up. I think at the end of the day, that was the difference.”

Rutherford was part of the Kolkata Knight Riders side that had won IPL 2024, but he didn’t get a game in India. Despite the lack of game time in the IPL, West Indies’ team management picked him ahead of Shimron Hetmyer, who was a more regular presence for Rajasthan Royals. Rutherford hit the ground running with an unbeaten 47 off 18 balls in the warm-up game, albeit against an undermanned Australia side, in Port-of-Spain. He repaid the faith with a more impactful knock against an experienced New Zealand attack that saw the reunion of Tim Southee with Trent Boult. According to ESPNcricinfo’s Smart Stats, which are designed to bring out the true value of individual performances in T20 cricket, Rutherford’s 68 was worth nearly 100.

“I was in the IPL for two months, so you know I was preparing [there] even though I wasn’t playing,” Rutherford said. “I did a lot of work and planning. Keeping it simple and backing myself – that was the key.

“I was just telling myself to take it deep. Me and [Daren] Sammy had a talk and he said: ‘try and take it deep’. The deeper I went, I started feeling momentum and I thought I could always make up in the end.”

Williamson: Not the end of the road for NZ’s golden generation

Having started the tournament with back-to-back defeats, New Zealand are already in danger of an early exit. Mathematically, they still have a chance to qualify for the Super Eight, but they will need several things to go in their favour. While Williamson bemoaned New Zealand’s inability to adapt quickly to the Caribbean conditions, he suggested that it might not be the end for New Zealand’s golden generation.

“They’re still guys that will be here for some time,” Williamson said. “I think if we just look at the two matches to start off… no doubt disappointing. You come to a world event, you want to start well and to be honest, we need to be better in these conditions specifically. We know that it’s going to be a real scrap and it’s not going to be easy. But if you win some small moments, match-ups go your way and that can be a defining element to your whole tournament, really, and it hasn’t happened for us, which is frustrating.”

After a rust-ridden opening outing against Afghanistan at the Providence, New Zealand brought back Southee, James Neesham and Rachin Ravindra, and did make early inroads. But bowling out all of his frontline quicks and Neesham in 18 overs meant Williamson had to turn to the part-time medium pace of Mitchell and the left-arm spin of Santner at the very end.

Williamson said that frontloading his fast bowlers was a gamble worth taking, considering the bowler-friendly conditions, which offered variable bounce throughout the evening.

“We knew that we needed to get Rutherford out and I think the batting depth of the West Indies side really shone through and it was beneficial for them certainly today on that surface,” Williamson said. “You know it’s going to be scrappy and you know that three balls here or three balls there can really put the score above par and that’s what they were able to do. So, for us to try and take that wicket and try to have the opportunity to restrict them to the 120 region, I think was worth doing and that didn’t quite pay off.

“I think whatever overs that we did bowl were going to be targetted and that’s the margins you deal with in T20 cricket nowadays with teams that’re batting deeper and you’re always playing that game of cat and mouse.”

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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