We asked 12 Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks for their Kiwi sporting hero of 2015. Colin Slade selected Black Caps wunderkind Kane Williamson. James Milne looks back on his extraordinary year at the crease.
In 2015, there have, incredibly, been more words written about Kane Williamson than runs scored by Kane Williamson – i.e. a heck of a lot. This tiny freak from Otumoetai, quite the most wholesome and dull sportsperson New Zealand has ever produced – think of a small, male Irene Van Dyk (I know she’s South African) – has transformed from a clearly promising young man who most evoked the phrase ‘huge potential’, into an extraordinarily consistent and prolific run scorer who inspires a seemingly endless stream of articles in the cricket media predicting a career path ranging somewhere between those of Tendulkar and Bradman.
Such lofty praise might go to the head of a normal person, but in Kane Williamson we have a truly unusual human character, one seemingly almost entirely devoid of ego. It’s a sporting cliché to follow any personal praise with the statement “couldn’t have done it without the boys/girls”, but Williamson truly seems to embody this ideal without any sense of obligation to an imposed team code. When talking to Ian Smith after his extraordinary match-winning 242 not out against Sri Lanka – about the closest one could get in a team sport to a truly solo achievement – the speed with which he deferred praise of his innings towards his teammates was almost as fast as his reaction time at the crease. It was genuinely instinctual, a deeply held belief.
In interviews, he takes on the personality of a polite young man talking to a friend’s parents. It’s immensely charming in a way, yet you can imagine some corporate interests nursing a gentle background concern that NZ Cricket’s captain-elect lacks some/any of the current captain’s suave charm and easy confidence with the media. Coupled with his absurd swashbuckling feats with the bat, Brendon McCullum’s effect on the perception and popularity of New Zealand Cricket’s ‘brand’ (to reluctantly use an ever more overused term in regards to sport) has been enormous, and administrators and sponsors could well be anxious that Kane Williamson is in comparison… well, a bit boring.
But his recent performances with the bat are so compelling, and have created such hype within world cricket’s cognoscenti, that his relatively tepid personality is, frankly, an utter irrelevance. A profile by Dylan Cleaver in the Cricket Monthly describes his upbringing in Tauranga with father Brett, a club cricketer, mother Sandra, a representative basketballer and four hugely sporty siblings, all of them bounding round this suburban utopia, playing ball sports from sunup to sundown. These are images of such true blue Kiwi idyll, they could be the treatment for a National Party campaign video – a background, on balance, that was always more likely to turn out a prolific and single-minded batting craftsman than a popular after-dinner speaker.
And thus he speaks predominantly with the considered yet loquacious blade of his Grey-Nicolls, while his face remains expressionless. Like a ventriloquist, accumulating runs without fanfare, almost via stealth. His individual shots don’t emblazon themselves on the memory. Instead, you have an image of the archetypes of his shots – his punched cover drive, the checked drive down the ground, his beautifully deft late cut and, almost trademark, the glide with soft-hands through gully (sounds like a menu item at a Chinese restaurant).
Your mental images of these shots, innings to innings, are almost interchangeable, so serenely organised is Williamson’s strokeplay, but – whatever – the cumulative effect is a lot of runs. In this calendar year, he has a test aggregate of 1063 runs from only seven tests, with an average (yes, Bradman-esque) of 88.58. Since the beginning of 2014 he has scored eight centuries in 16 tests at an average of 73.77, higher over the same period than the two contemporaries to whom he is most frequently compared, Joe Root and Steve Smith. In ODIs he has the highest aggregate of any player in 2015, achieved at the terrific rate of 90 runs per 100 balls, the strike rate of a genuine limited overs specialist – and yet anyone forced to make a choice would probably consider him more of a long form player.
A number of New Zealand’s (mostly) wonderful current crop of players have had their moments of glory in recent years. Brendon McCullum’s 2014 featured a brace of the most spellbinding, extraordinary test innings in the history of the game, while Ross Taylor has been tremendously prolific in test and ODI cricket over the past three years, if punctuated by periods of scratchy batting and murmurs of lost form. Trent Boult and Tim Southee have both bowled some of finest spells in world cricket over the past couple of seasons. As Williamson attests, his success does not come in isolation, but nurtured within an environment that has produced the strongest team and individual performances over a protracted period since at least the Beige Age.
But Kane Williamson’s consistency and temperament mark him out to be more than just another New Zealand player who has the occasional wonderful moment or purple patch of form, but, instead, the first male New Zealand player since Sir Richard Hadlee who is genuinely the world’s best at his discipline. He may be as exciting as a bowl of Weet-Bix, but he’s brilliant. And he’s ours.
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