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Kane Williamson not worried about New Zealand being labeled as underdogs for World Cup 2019 final

New Zealand had defeated India by 18 runs in the first semi-final at Old Trafford in Manchester to reach 2019 World Cup final. 

Kane Williamson not worried about New Zealand being labeled as underdogs for World Cup 2019 final

The captain and coach may have changed but the results have largely been the same for New Zealand in reaching a second successive final of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Men's World Cup final.

Where four years has felt like an eternity for England, going from a humiliating exit before the quarter-finals to the brink of a first ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup title, New Zealand have progressed serenely, in the image of captain Kane Williamson.

He has taken over from Brendon McCullum, and much as he does when he bats in the middle, the Black Caps skipper gives very little away before a match.

Speaking on the eve of the World Cup 2019 final clash against England, Williamson conceded that this Kiwi side is very different to the one that reached the final in Melbourne in 2015, even if five of the players in that game were also part of the team that beat India in the semi-final at Old Trafford in Manchester on Wednesday.

Given the difference between the two sides, the understated skipper does not believe that experience will give New Zealand an edge in the final.

 “We were in a different part of the world on a different surface against different opposition, and both sides are very different from four years ago, so it's kind of hard to compare those times. Whether having had experience in a final or not is a good thing, any final you get the opportunity to play in is a really positive thing," the ICC press release quoted Williamson as saying. 

“But at the same time, as we know in this game, it does come down to putting a performance on the board that gives us the best opportunity to win and both sides will be very much looking to do that and trying to treat the game as any other game.It's just very different to four years ago. We have a very different group, a slightly different vibe and ethos and how we operate," he added. 

Williamson further said that his side's focus would not be on clinching the trophy heading into the summit showdown, but to put up a performance they would be proud of. 

“But at the same time there's a real commitment to that which is a really positive thing and it's held us in good stead to this point, so the focus for us is about the cricket that we want to play and we want to be proud of the performance that we put on the board," Williamson said. 

England defeated the Black Caps by 119 runs in the first meeting between the sides in the 2019 World Cup during the league stage clash in Durham, and they will enter the game as the world’s No.1 side.

Williamson was happy to label the Eoin Morgan-led side as favourites on home soil, but insisted the underdog Kiwis can still cause an upset.

“I think England rightly deserve to be favourites. Coming into this tournament from the start, they were favourites and they've been playing really good cricket. But whatever dog we are, it's just important that we focus on the cricket that we want to play and we have seen over the years that anybody can beat anybody regardless of breed of dog," he said. 

“We are quite keen on winning as well. There's all different bits of pressure on anybody, whether you are favourites or not," Williamson added. 

Here is the full transcript of Kane Williamson's pre-match conference which was published on ICC Media: 

Q. Welcome, Kane. What message would you say to anyone who has ever picked up a bat and a ball in New Zealand, about this opportunity tomorrow at Lord's?

Williamson: I guess anything's possible (smiling). I guess when you take yourself back to that point in time, it feels like a long way away and you make a few small steps forward and you work pretty hard together as a group and next thing you might find yourself here.

And it's obviously a really special occasion tomorrow and to be involved in a World Cup and representing your country let alone to turn up here at the home of cricket and be involved in a final is pretty special.

Q. Kane, you and Gary and everyone else in the team talk about how it is one game at a time and Gary yesterday was saying that this is no different to any other game of cricket. But how on earth can you kind of go -- that must be hard to go in with that mindset when you know you are playing England in the World Cup Final at Lord's. How do you do that?

Williamson: Yes, any game that you play in you deal with different distractions and, naturally, in a World Cup Final it brings other distractions and there's a lot more people here today and perhaps that may be one.

There are a whole bunch of other things where all different thoughts can go through your mind of potential realities, but certainly where Gary and myself and all the group come from it's keeping your feet on the ground looking to play the sort of cricket you want to play to give yourself the best chance regardless of whether it's a semifinal, a round-robin game or, fortunately enough now, to be in a final. At the end of the day, it is still a cricket match, where both teams are looking to go out and implement their plans as best they can to give themselves the best chance.

Q. Can you tell us about the importance of the first ten overs? With Jason Roy and Bairstow, if they can stay longer, they are damaging the opposition?

Williamson: Yeah, those two have been fantastic throughout this whole competition and prior as well. And I think we mentioned before, there's a whole -- there are a number of other parts to perhaps playing in a World Cup Final. But there is a huge amount of respect for the match-winners that they have within their side, obviously the top of the order and throughout.

But the focus for us is very much about the cricket that we want to play and the performance we want to put on the board and if we do that, we have seen throughout this competition that anybody can beat anybody.

Q. Kane, do you subscribe to the theory that it's better to have played in a final than not and apart from the obvious in terms of the result, what do you still hope to do differently this time around?

Williamson: Yeah, well, there's a whole heap of different things, I suppose. We were in a different part of the world on a different surface against a different opposition, and both sides are very different from four years ago, so it's kind of hard to compare those times.

Whether having had experience in a final or not is a good thing. Any final you get the opportunity to play in is a really positive thing. But at the same time as we know in this game nothing promises, so it does come down to putting a performance on the board that gives us the best opportunity to win and both sides will be very much looking to do that and trying to treat the game as any other game.

But it's a really exciting, special occasion and I think both teams will be savouring the opportunity to be where we are at the moment.

Q. Are you any more relaxed at all this time around?

Williamson: Four years ago, how did I feel? (Smiling) Yeah, I don't know, it's just very different. We have a very different group, a slightly different, I guess, vibe and ethos and how we operate, but at the same time there's a real commitment to that which is a really positive thing and it's held us in good stead to this point, so the focus for us is about the cricket that we want to play and we want to be proud of the performance that we put on the board.

Q. Are you a person who loves winning, or do you hate losing, which one are you? As a captain, four years back, how do you relate to losses especially in the evenings? Does it take time or do you just move on as a captain with the losses?

Williamson: I try not to get too caught up in the results and hopefully not too emotional about just the outcome and maybe look at it with a bit more reason and where we perhaps could have improved and where some things that were out of our control had an impact on the game and then try and move on from that as quickly as possible.

So there's always more to the picture than just the end point and that is sort of the focus for us as a team, it's actually putting our efforts into the moment, how we want to operate as a group and it may well be very different to other sides and how they operate which is fine, but we trust in it and it is important that we do and we look forward to tomorrow treating it with a huge amount of respect because it's not very often you get the opportunity to be out in a World Cup Final, but very much focussed on what we need to try and achieve.

Q. Are you a guy who loves winning more or do you hate losing?

Williamson: I prefer winning than losing (smiling). That is probably the best way to say it. It is always -- any experience that you have is an opportunity to learn and sometimes tough experiences, being on the wrong side of results, can sometimes slap you in the face and give you a glaring lesson and if you ignore that, I don't think that is a positive thing, so treating both of those, the outcomes with respect and trying to learn from them to be better as a group and as an individual I think is the best part.

Q. I know, as has just been said, you were second in the last final. How would you feel if you are second again tomorrow?

Williamson: We've sort of spoken a little bit about results and it's not so much about that, it is not so much about that, it's not willing the perfect performance, you don't have to be perfect, but it is about how we want to operate as a side and that's been the case throughout this tournament. We have tried to adjust to conditions as best we could and we've been fairly effective in doing that and we want to be good at that again come tomorrow and we want to focus on the task that are at hand for us to play our best cricket and the end point is the end point.

Q. Do you feel you are the underdogs and does that give you more impetus to go out there and try harder?

Williamson: A lot of people say that on a number of occasions which is great and I think England rightly so deserve to be favourites. Coming into this tournament from the start, they were favourites and they've been playing really good cricket. But whatever dog we are, it's just important that we focus on the cricket that we want to play and we have seen over the years that anybody can beat anybody regardless of breed of dog (Smiling).

Q. Those of us who have been lucky to go to New Zealand know how lovely you guys are as a people, but how would it feel tomorrow being the party-poopers at Lord's?

Williamson: Party-poopers? You talking about dogs again, hey? (Smiling) Underdogs? Look, we are really looking forward to the occasion and, like I say, the end point and the result, there's a lot of time between now and that point, so focussing too much on it I don't think is a positive thing and the focus for us as a group is what's in front of us and we know you go into any match and you have to deal with a number of different things, whether it's different moments of pressure, whether it's different moments of momentum and we have to be prepared to deal with all of those again.

Q. Are you guys getting a sense of how big this is back home in New Zealand?

Williamson: Yeah, I mean, we've seen a lot of support come through, which is awesome. I suppose the last World Cup was at home and a lot of the attention was there on your doorstep and we had crowds of Kiwis coming to every game and we were playing at home which was really special and over here we've got a few scattered in amongst the majority of opposition crowds, but that's great as well and I know we're getting a lot of support from a long way off.

Q. There is huge expectation on England and pressure, can that work for you?

Williamson: Yeah, I don't know really. We have to turn up tomorrow and we will have to see what unfolds. Nothing promises in this game, everybody has different bits of pressure and how you treat it can be a big part of that.

But I would probably have to say that England are focussed on the cricket they want to play, whether they are favourites or not, and we will focus on the cricket we want to play as well.

Q. The pressure is off you though?

Williamson: We are quite keen on winning as well (laughter). There's all different bits of pressure on anybody, whether you are favourites or not.

Q. You seem to be a lot more relaxed today than before the India game. Are you?

Williamson: When did we hang out before the India game?

Q. Why do you think you and the team will have an edge over England?

Williamson: Why do we?

Q. Why do you think you and the team will have an edge over England?

Williamson: Why we think we have the edge? We don't really think that in particular. We're just focussing on the sort of cricket that we want to play and hopefully that sort of performance despite being a final or a semifinal or a must-win or a five-match series, we still want to be putting out a strong performance that gives ourselves the best chance, whether you want to win something more than another day. I don't think that's always helpful.

So peeling it back, coming back to the performance, or the small moments, mucking in as a group, which is something we have done well throughout this campaign, working together, you know, are all parts of what we need to try and achieve tomorrow.

Q. You always seem fairly level-headed whatever the situation of the game is, whatever the state of the match is. Is that something you had to learn as a player or has that always been your approach?

Williamson: I think forever learning. You just constantly are having so many different experiences and the sport that we play, there are so many uncontrollables that you need to try and deal with and that is a real challenge at times.

So, it's, like I say, it's forever learning, learning about the game and about yourself and different emotions that you can feel, but as a group for us it is important that we are level and how we operate and keep peeling it back to what is important.

Q. You speak about not being at home and the competition not on your doorstep but Lord's does a hold a special place to you and the Black Caps. So how do you wrap your mind around that on such a big stage, on a Grand Final, and what are the conversations you have as a captain to try and keep minds sound, I suppose?

Williamson: Yeah, I mean, it's a really special place to play cricket on any day, but I guess with the added attention of a World Cup Final means it's perhaps a bit more special than another day which is great, and the guys are really excited at the prospect tomorrow and going out there and playing the sort of cricket that we want to play and in terms of conversations with other guys, guys have been having chats on a number of occasions which is cool and I can say that they are just really excited at looking forward to going out tomorrow and taking on what is a really strong England side.

Q. Eoin Morgan has been quite open about his England team taking inspiration from the way New Zealand played in 2015. Is that a massive compliment or annoying because they have become so good off the back of it?

Williamson: Whether they -- well, if he said that, that's kind or whatever it is, it's great, but I think the last World Cup, which was perhaps seen as a negative, a real catalyst for the changes that they have made and the force that they are and how they are playing their cricket certainly in the white-ball format and I think Eoin has been a massive part in changing that and rightly so they are now ranked No. 1 in the world.

They deserve all of those good parts that come with that and they have been playing really good cricket. It's always a tough one, you don't tend to just change the way you play, you also need to work with the group that you have and try and make adjustments accordingly to get the best out of the personnel that you have at the time and that's forever changing, but they certainly made some strong changes really quickly and they've been playing really good white-ball cricket for a long time.

Q. We know that England prefer really good batting surfaces. This one looks quite green. Is that encouraging to you guys?

Williamson: Perhaps encouraging to seam bowlers on both sides. But we don't know what the wicket has in store, there's still a bit of time between now and the start of play and I haven't had a close look at it just yet because we have just arrived.

Usually, it's a fairly fair surface here but I think at the same time one that guys need to adapt quickly to, like any other surface that we have seen in the World Cup.

Q. Kane, you have just mentioned adapting quickly and assessing conditions, that seems to be something you have done really well through the tournament. Is that down to the sort of variety of conditions you have to face back at home and how much courage does it take against a powerhouse batting line-up like India or England to go with settling for 240.

Williamson: Yeah, it is a challenge. I think turning up, most teams having played here before expected scores to be a lot higher than what we have seen, but the reality of it is that they have been quite tough surfaces and there's been surfaces that have aged throughout perhaps a match on one day, so trying to make those adjustments are really important and I think if you are focussing on what you need to do as a group and the cricket that you want to play, then making those adjustments like in the last game. I think both sides looked at the surface, thought it was a really good one, and thought perhaps 300 and something was what was going to be at play, but after 15 overs or so, having conversations thinking "This is really quite difficult and 300 looks like a long, long way away" so if we are able to perhaps achieve something a little bit more realistic on that surface, then that gives you every chance to win the matches.

And we have done it on a number of occasions but we will have to be good at doing that tomorrow and surfaces at times have been hard to read, especially with the pre-emptive ideas what most teams come into the World Cup with which is very high scoring and tough work for the bowlers. Bowlers have I think enjoyed themselves a little bit.

So, yeah, tomorrow is a new challenge for each occasion where we will need to make those adjustments quickly.

Q. Lots have been made over here of what an England World Cup win would do for English cricket. What would a first World Cup win for New Zealand do for cricket for you in that country?

Williamson: Well, I'd like to think it would have a really positive impact on the sport in our country and having played in the previous one and being in the final there, it still had a massive impact in terms of perhaps inspiring kids to get involved in the game which, at the end of the day, when you move past a number of different parts of the professional game, that is kind of why you do it and hopefully there's a lot of kids out there that have been enjoying the cricket we have been playing and appreciate the hard work that's gone into being here now.

But we also are really excited at watching a final with their team in it. So, it would be a really special thing no doubt.

Q. Kane, the last World Cup we saw Guptill charge the fast bowlers, setting the tone at the start. This World Cup we are seeing Roy and Bairstow do that to the opposition. Given the form of your openers, do you think they will target certain bowlers in the England ranks in the first ten overs and make a statement there, do you think that is going to be the critical part here?

Williamson: Look, it is impossible to say at this point in time because we just don't know what the surface has in store and what a good total is for the team batting first or the team bowling first.

So, there's too many unknowns to predict any of those things, but I think the thing we do know is we come here tomorrow. All that's happened before doesn't really matter and it's all about the performances both teams want to put out on the day.