Kane Williamson and Trent Boult at the T20 World Cup (Photo: Ashley Allen/Getty Images)
Kane Williamson and Trent Boult at the T20 World Cup (Photo: Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

SportsJune 19, 2024

Kane Williamson latest Black Cap to turn down NZ Cricket contract

Kane Williamson and Trent Boult at the T20 World Cup (Photo: Ashley Allen/Getty Images)
Kane Williamson and Trent Boult at the T20 World Cup (Photo: Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

The Black Caps icon will relinquish the captaincy in all forms of the game as he moves to a casual playing contract.

An exclusive from The Bounce, a Substack newsletter by Dylan Cleaver.

Kane Williamson has turned down a New Zealand Cricket central contract in a seismic move that both sides believe will prolong his international career.

Williamson, 33, will take up a casual playing contract that will afford him the opportunity to play in overseas T20 franchise leagues over the coming year.

It sees him relinquish captaincy of the Black Caps’ white-ball sides, meaning it will be the first time since Brendon McCullum retired in 2016 that he will not have the (c) next to his name in any format.

It is understood Williamson is close to signing a deal to play in South Africa’s SA20, which runs from January 10 to February 10. The Black Caps do not have any international cricket in their home summer scheduled for January, but Williamson will not be available for the Northern Knights in the Super Smash.

In transit from the Caribbean to New Zealand following a disappointing T20 World Cup campaign, Williamson was not available for comment but through a team spokesman confirmed the crux of the story.

“From our point of view this is a positive development,” said NZC chief executive Scott Weenink. “He is committing to New Zealand for the long term, but with the schedules the way they are this summer he is looking to take up an opportunity in a franchise league and will take his family with him.”

Both parties investigated the possibility of Williamson remaining on one of NZC’s 20 central contracts, but it would have undermined a system that has worked well for the national body and players’ association for more than 20 years. It would also create potential friction around broadcast and sponsor commitments if a contracted player was unavailable for chunks of the home summer.

Williamson will instead be offered a casual playing contract, Weenink said, which will see him paid a retainer while in camp with New Zealand, on top of the standard match fees for tests, one-day internationals and T20s.

“Kane is basically going to be available to play every test, injury permitting,” Weenink said, “with the possible exception of the Afghanistan test, and is available for the Champions Trophy in Pakistan early next year.”

New Zealand will play Afghanistan, who humbled them in the T20 opener in Guyana last week, at a neutral venue in September. The one-off test, likely to be played in India, does not carry World Test Championship points.

Kane Williamson lifts the World Test Championship mace in 2021. (Photo: Getty Images)

New Zealand then tours Sri Lanka for two tests in September-October, followed by three tests in India, six white-ball games against Sri Lanka (which Williamson is likely to miss), before the first home test against England at Hagley Oval on November 28.

Williamson is thought to be keen to play through to the 2027-28 season at least, and Weenink says enabling some flexibility in the contracting system makes it easier to keep the very best in the game for longer.

It is a similar arrangement to what Trent Boult has played on for the past couple of years, although his situation was slightly different in that he was looking to dial back on his international commitments. He has not played a game of red-ball cricket since the Headingley test against England in 2022.

Weenink insisted the casual playing contracts would not become commonplace, and were reserved only for those who have provided exceptional service, such as Boult and Williamson. Tim Southee is another who would be granted one, but he has made it clear he wants to stay on a central contract and as incumbent test skipper remains focused on restoring the fortunes of the Black Caps.

Boult has indicated that the World T20 would be his last tournament for his country. Weenink did not know what the left-arm swing bowler’s future plans were but labelled him an “incredible servant” of the game here.

Trent Boult in flight at Eden Park in 2018 (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images).

It is understood that Lockie Ferguson, who this morning took the stunning figures of three wickets for no runs off four maidens in a dead-rubber win against Papua New Guinea in Trinidad, has also indicated he will not be taking up an NZC contract as he pursues more T20 opportunities. Any future involvement for the Black Caps would likely be on a match-fee basis.

“It is still massively advantageous for players to remain on our contract list,” Weenink said. “There is absolutely no guarantee you will be offered a casual contract if you turned down a [central] contract.

“Kane and Trent have earned it,” Weenink said, through close to a decade-and-a-half of world-class performances across all formats.

Weenink said the playing without a contract was a “risky option” as you fell down the ranking list, you didn’t receive a retainer and would lose priority access to medical facilities and personnel.

“In the past we have given selection preference to contracted players,” Weenink said. “Most of all, guys are still really keen to play for New Zealand because international cricket remains the best shop window for the sport.”

While the news that Williamson remains committed to the Black Caps for the next ODI World Cup cycle at least, there is no getting around the fact it is a blow to the Super Smash, which has been starved of star power. Along with the likes of Williamson, Boult, Ferguson and James Neesham, there is a chance some players offered domestic contracts, such as Central Districts’ Tom Bruce, will also turn them down, though they will still be encouraged to play Super Smash above the Plunket Shield and Ford Trophy.

Williamson’s move throws cricket’s increasingly squeezed calendar into sharp relief. The global men’s game is hurtling towards a tipping point as privately owned teams look to increase their footprint, while national boards also look to maximise their content churn to satisfy broadcast demands in between a suite of ICC tournaments, such as the T20 World Cup, the ODI World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the WTC.

Of more immediate concern is the leadership vacuum it leaves in New Zealand’s white-ball operations.

“You can’t be captain if you’re not centrally contracted,” Weenink said. “That’s a non-negotiable.”

Some obvious candidates would be Mitchell Santner and Daryl Mitchell, who occupy either ends of the laidback-to-intense spectrum.

There is also a possibility that Williamson will return to the contracts list in future seasons, though that could depend on his attractiveness on the global T20 market. He was used sparingly by the Gujarat Titans in the IPL this season, following an injury-hit 2023.

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