'One of the better bowling sides in the competition': Williamson braces for Afghanistan challenge - Cricket News | Cricket Updates | Match Report

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Friday, June 7, 2024

'One of the better bowling sides in the competition': Williamson braces for Afghanistan challenge

 Williamson's last T20I came against Pakistan in January this year.

Williamson's last T20I came against Pakistan in January this year. © Getty

New Zealand captain and star batter Kane Williamson heaped praise on the Afghanistan side, calling his first opponents at the T20 World Cup "one of the better bowling sides in the competition". The Black Caps will begin their quest to a maiden T20 World Cup triumph with a tricky clash in Guyana against a side they've only played once before in this format. While that contest three years ago in Abu Dhabi was a relatively comfortable win for Williamson's side, Afghanistan have continued to grow in white-ball cricket with their players richer for the experience gained in various franchise T20 tournaments around the world.

"Certainly a number of players in their side... I mean, all of the players, to be honest, they have such a skillful team, one of the better bowling attacks, I think, in the competition," Williamson said on the eve of the game.

"And we've seen that in franchise competitions, the involvement, the number of Afghani players. And they're getting better and better," Williamson said. "They're getting more and more top-level cricket. And we saw at the last World Cup how strong they were in the ODI format too. So, a really highly skilled team and a number of threats."

Among the highly-skilled players in the Afghanistan side is captain and T20 superstar Rashid Khan, who Williamson has shared a dressing room with in the IPL - both at Gujarat Titans and previously at the Sunrisers Hyderabad. "Obviously, Rashid's been around for a while now, although still a young man, but an extremely gifted world-class player. But there are a number of other players in their side throughout, really, that make them an exciting team and a real challenge," Williamson added.

The New Zealand skipper comes into the World Cup without having played much T20 cricket in the build-up. His last T20I came against Pakistan in January this year when he suffered a hamstring strain and missed the remainder of the series. He would have hoped for more playing time in the IPL but constraints of overseas combination meant he batted only twice in the competition for an aggregate of 27 runs from 27 balls.

Another key player in the squad, Devon Conway, too comes in after a lengthy injury layoff. An all-format regular for the Black Caps, the 32-year-old Conway hasn't played any cricket since February when he suffered a thumb injury while keeping wickets in a T20I against Australia at Eden Park. That meant he missed the entirety of IPL 2024 where he would have been a definite starter for the Chennai Super Kings.

"Yeah. I mean, it's just the nature of the beast. I've been involved in a few IPLs now and sometimes play more, sometimes play less," Williamson said. "And the balance of overseas players has a lot to do with that. And so, from my perspective, it's just trying to help the team as much as I can and then put quite a bit of time into some of the fitness side of things and other parts of your game.

"But when you are on the road playing a lot, you know, sometimes it's hard to get those windows. But equally, you know, there's cricket coming up, which is the World Cup. So, it's trying to put time into moving your game forward because there's so many opportunities over there. Obviously, playing is nice and it's nice to have that reference point when you play and then you train."

Williamson, one of the greatest cricketers produced by the Black Caps, is still chasing an elusive white-ball ICC trophy despite having made at least the final-four in each of the last five World Cups (ODIs + T20Is). But his approach to this tournament will not be dictated by individual desires.

"I suppose any player that gets deeper into their career and perhaps some of those opportunities naturally become less, But the same thing is just our approach to it. What gives us the best chance? There are no promises. There's obviously good intentions and hopes and dreams, and so many teams have the same ones. And so, it comes back to that cricket, what we're trying to do as a group, and really put your attention and focus into that and see what unfolds," he signed off.

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