By Niall Anderson in Nottingham
It was no surprise when Kane Williamson brought up 50 against Afghanistan, raising his bat to acknowledge his 38th half-century in ODI cricket. The potentially surprising part, however, was the fact it was just the second time he had reached that mark in a World Cup match.
Williamson's unbeaten 79 in the seven-wicket win over Afghanistan was his highest score in 15 World Cup innings, and the first time he had passed 50 since the opening game of the 2015 tournament, against Sri Lanka.
It's a statistic that is probably more of a curiosity than a concern – his knock against the Afghans boosted his World Cup average to 45.2, just shy of his overall ODI average of 46.5. Additionally, in 2011 he had two unbeaten knocks batting at six, and was twice left standing in 2015 as well, with opportunities for a big score not particularly prevalent.
Still though, after finishing the 2015 World Cup with knocks of just 1, 33, 6 and 12, and having not scored an ODI century since March 2018, starting the 2019 edition with a 40 against Bangladesh and a 79 not out against Afghanistan has the skipper building nicely ahead of the grueling part of the Black Caps' schedule.
"It was just nice to build a couple of partnerships, which is really important when you're chasing," offered Williamson, notorious for deflecting when asked to comment on his own form.
The Afghanistan innings was a sensible knock, having walked out to the middle to face the second ball of the innings. One inside edge, and the customary run-out scare, were the only loose strokes offered, as Williamson paced himself, moving from 25 off 50 balls, to 42 off 72 balls, and finishing up on 79 from 99 balls.
The slow scoring rate could be seen as a concern – Williamson looked a bit scratchy in making 40 off 72 balls against Bangladesh - but with the Black Caps bowlers having restricted opposition to small totals, Williamson had the opportunity to pace himself, and played smartly to avoid the Black Caps being in early strife.
"It's been a little bit different each time and guys have had to adapt and basically try and chase the total down as clinically as possible," said Williamson, providing his perspective on pacing the Black Caps' run chases.
"We've had three mid-totals [to chase], and you want to try and get a bit of stability going into some of those later overs because every team in this competition have world-class wicket takers within it. And if you give them a sniff, then they can run away with it."
They're unlikely to be able to chase similar scores against the teams looming in the next few weeks, while after winning the toss and choosing to bowl on three occasions, the Black Caps may soon also have to set a sizeable score.
Both will be significant challenges, and Williamson will have to raise his bat a few more times if the Black Caps are to continue their World Cup winning run.
The Alternative Commentary Collective are podcasting their way through the World Cup. Known for their unconventional sports analysis and off-kilter banter, the ACC have come to ask the tough questions. Here's the latest episode of 'The Agenda':
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT