By Niall Anderson in Birmingham

There have been more fluent displays from the bat of Kane Williamson. Smoother showings. Technically superior performances.

But few have been more important.

Williamson's unbeaten 106, capped off with the winning runs in the final over, was the immovable anchor in the Black Caps' thrilling four-wicket win over South Africa in Birmingham, maintaining their unbeaten start to the Cricket World Cup in incredible style.

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The skipper's maiden World Cup century was of immense importance, and ended up being superbly timed, as Williamson weighed up the conditions, bowlers and situation in order to expertly guide the Black Caps home with three balls to spare.

Vintage Williamson this was not, which in a way, makes his innings even more impressive. Inside edges flew past the stumps, three times he was hit on the arm, and as he later explained, for large periods he was finding fielders with his well-timed shots, and mistiming most of the rest.

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On an Edgbaston wicket that was difficult to score on the entire day, Williamson knew that this task going to require a different type of performance – one where he needed to grind instead of glide.

"Sometimes you knew that you were going to have tough periods out there," he reflected post-game.

"Going into the innings, it was important that you tried to give yourself a little bit of a break because no one played the free-flowing innings except for, perhaps, [Colin] de Grandhomme, which was obviously very nice to watch.

"You're just trying to take the game to a stage to not let [the struggles] bother you despite the fact that you always want a few more."

For Williamson, who always preaches a team-first ethos that never feels inauthentic, that meant he was perfectly content with grafting singles, if de Grandhomme (60 off 47 balls) was blasting away at the other end, keeping the required run rate at a manageable level.

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"Taking the focus away from yourself and much more around the situation of where we're going to be as a team is the focus.

"It doesn't really matter as long as the team is moving forward. If a guy at the other end hits a boundary and you're looking at 4.5 an over, then a large part of that over is achieved.

"It didn't have to be right there right now - which I guess is sometimes the thing that can cloud you - it can be in a few overs.

"You're just wanting to make the best decisions you can despite at times struggling through different periods of an innings."

Kane Williamson celebrates his century at Edgbaston. Photo / Getty
Kane Williamson celebrates his century at Edgbaston. Photo / Getty

Those struggles nearly resulted in his wicket, on multiple occasions.

Imran Tahir thought he had Williamson heading back to the pavilion on 76 with a bottom edge, except nobody else - including the umpire - agreed, as the chance for a review went unused. The replay suggested Tahir had a right to be aggrieved. On 77, Williamson was nearly run out, only for an errant throw to cause David Miller to knock off the bails without ball in hand. And, on 91, he nearly spooned a delivery back to Lungi Ngidi – the ball dropping inches short of his diving fingertips.

They were chances that South Africa rued. Severely.

An audacious dab past short third man produced a four when New Zealand needed 12 from seven balls – "I was just looking for a single, to be honest", grinned Williamson – was followed by a booming six, reminiscent of Grant Elliott's famous shot, as he brought up his century.

The next ball went for four, completing a superb victory, and one of New Zealand's greatest World Cup batting displays.

It was difficult. It was a struggle. It was a hell of a grind.

It was, ultimately, brilliant.

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