Even the prettiest of adjectives look pale when you try to describe Kane Williamson and his New Zealand side’s nicety. Perhaps, it’s a reflection of the nation that has seemingly underachieved in cricket, or the other way to look at it would be a side that have punched above its weight.
Adjectives are always a problem with New Zealand, anyway. The scenic radiance of the geography is unparalleled. That’s for another day.
A country with around five million people now sits at the apex of the ICC Test Rankings. To give you a perspective, (in a non-COVID world) about 7.5 million commuters take the Mumbai local trains daily.
While the masses wonder about this sudden Kiwi rise in our beloved sport, the elitist argue if New Zealand’s spot at the top is justified considering their dominance being mostly limited at home.
Looking at the bigger picture – besides the All Blacks, milk, sheep and tourism, cricket has gradually crawled into the little nation’s identity.
Brendon McCullum deserves tons of credit for cooking the Kiwi brand with the right mix of sportsmanship and competitiveness. Kane Williamson, on his part, has added his flavour of calmness into it and marched on maintaining the balance.
It was fitting that Kane acknowledged Baz and the former coach Mike Hesson for laying the foundation. Well, that’s the by-product of the culture they set.
If they won all the hearts with their 2015 World Cup campaign, they only added a zillion more fans after the 2019 World Cup heartbreak.
The decade starts with a hat-trick of joys for the Kiwis. For the first time in their cricketing chronicles, they have climbed to the top of the Test rankings. They have an excellent chance to exorcise Lord’s ghosts by playing the World Test Championship Final. And last but not least, Kane Williamson, after a gap of five years, has now marched to the No.1 spot in the Test rankings.
It’s another story that Steve Smith, the rightful heir to the throne, has declared war with a hundred at Sydney. It looks a matter of time before he returns there.
My earliest memories of Kane dates back to the 2008 Under-19 World Cup. One’s ought to be exceptional if at 17 you are playing the U-19 World Cup and leading the side. The boy didn’t look more than 12. I still remember a beardless Virat Kohli dismissing a beardless Kane Williamson in that game.
Beard, a gear, now you can’t imagine these two cricketers without.
A year later, in 2009, during a trip to Tauranga, a school coach told me that New Zealand’s own Sachin Tendulkar was from this region and how he’s readying himself in the proximity. Many around the New Zealand cricket setup knew that this featherweight prodigy had it in him to become the country’s finest batsman.
I had my reservations. Could this little boy surpass someone like a Martin Crowe?
You looked at the sport from a holistic point of view. The advent of T20s was marking the era of power players. McCullum was leading the way, Ross Taylor had hit his prime and coming to the subcontinent, a 21-year-old Rohit Sharma was clearing the stadiums effortlessly.
‘Could he match the machismo the sport demands today?’ I wondered.
Another year later, two days after turning 20, Kane would earn his New Zealand cap. Like his boyhood hero, Sachin Tendulkar, Kane would be his ODI career with two back-to-back zeroes.
Later in 2010, he would strike a fine hundred on his Test debut in India. Luckily for him, the big moment came in a match where he was playing against Tendulkar.
The rise was gradual as he transformed into an all-format great today – someone whom the world adores for his sportsmanship and batting craftmanship.
Little did I foresee that this young chap would climb the pinnacle in Test batting ranking one day.
I am glad I am proven wrong. He fulfilled the prophecy and became New Zealand’s greatest ever. And he remains one of my favourite reasons to stay hooked to the sport. However, there’s more and a steeper ladder awaits between his greatness and a gigantic legacy.
Is Kane Williamson the best in the world?
A fantastic batsman that Kane is, he isn’t without the chinks in his armour. The hallmark of a truly great modern Test batsman is his ability to master all the varied conditions.
Lara never really got going in India; Steve Waugh had his issues in Sri Lanka and New Zealand; Sangakkara didn’t really set things on fire in the West Indies; Dravid struggled in South Africa, and Ponting had a dreaded run in India.
Some struggled with bounce, some swing and for some, the footwork was Achilles’ heel on turners. Meanwhile, Tendulkar averaged above 40 in every country he batted.
In recent times, AB de Villiers has managed to achieve that in every nation where he has played a minimum of three Tests. Otherwise, Smith’s wizardry with the willow in all conditions makes him an apparent true heir to the enormous vacuum left in between Don Bradman and other batsmen.
Virat Kohli had a torrid 2014 tour to England, but he exorcised the ghosts in 2018 and brought up the average from 13 to 36.4. A disappointing series in New Zealand last year saw his average drop below 40 in that country. West Indies is another place where Kohli averages just over 35, mainly due to his poor debut series in 2011.
However, Kohli averages over 35 in every country where he has played more than one Test and has at least one hundred.
Big scores may have eluded Joe Root for a while, but the England captain has a high percentage of scoring fifties. In fact, Root doesn’t average below 38 in any country where he has played more than two Tests.
Has this been the case with our Kane?
The break-up of Kane Williamson’s batting numbers
After the debut ton against India, he has averaged only 27.5 in the 12 innings he played since. It’s a shame that in an 11-year-long career, he has played just four Tests each in England, South Africa and Sri Lanka. He hasn’t mastered any of those conditions.
While we may argue that New Zealand do not play enough Test cricket and even when they do, it’s mostly small series. Often in a two-Test series, by the time a player gets acclimatised to conditions, the tour is over, and your next opportunity to make the mark may come five years later. This is something the New Zealand cricket authorities should look at. As the No.1 side, they need to play more Tests.
Kane’s away numbers are largely bolstered for hammering the weaker oppositions. Again, an argument could be posed if Bangladesh, at home, are weaker opposition as claimed? Kane’s last Bangladesh tour was in 2013. Till 2013, Bangladesh had won only three Tests in their 13-year career, and the last seven years, they added 11 more wins.
Still 30, he has just entered the zone which is often considered the peaking period for any batsman. Equipped with a sound technique and an unsatiated appetite, Kane Williamson has at least half a decade to do the climb to be recognized as an all-time great. There’s no reason why he cannot.