There is much to like about New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson. He doesn’t indulge in the kind of pre-series bluster that often qualifies as aggression, and doesn’t take the legend-in-the-making tag too seriously.
In his first media interaction since landing in New Delhi late on Monday for the Test series, the batsman scored high on the ‘likeability’ quotient, and unlike his trans-Tasman neighbours, didn’t aim mental games at the rival skipper.
In recent years, Virat Kohli, Williamson, England’s Joe Root and Australia’s Steven Smith have emerged as batting mainstays of their respective teams. Apart from Root, the others lead their Test teams as well. These right-handers’ domination of bowlers across the world has often led to comparisons among them.
However, Williamson steered clear of comparisons with Kohli, adding that he admired his Indian counterpart. “Virat’s a great player. His ability to dominate all three formats is something very special, and certainly something that I admire,” he said.
“I love watching him play, and you mentioned Root and Smith, they are both great players as well. I think they are all different players, they have different strengths, trying to suit their own game plans and strengths. In a way, that is sort of the beauty of the game where everyone can do it differently and have some success.”
Williamson had announced his arrival in Test cricket on the last tour of India in 2010, with his debut ton in Ahmedabad. Since then, his fluid strokeplay and oodles of patience had made Kiwi great Martin Crowe pronounce him a future great. However, the 26-year-old has a lot of catching up to do in India. He averages 36.22 in India, against his career average of 51.08.
With India expected to roll out turning tracks, the Kiwi batsmen will have their task cut out. “Yeah, previous series here, spin certainly played a huge part, and at times batting was difficult. So, no doubt, it would be a bit of a scrap. Spin for both teams will play a big part,” he conceded.
However, playing spin on turning tracks is not the same with India as it was even a decade back. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann famously exposed Indian batsmen in 2012. In the World T20 group match in Nagpur earlier this year, Kiwi spinners beat India in their game on an underprepared track. The Indian spinners managed just three wickets, while their Kiwi counterparts bagged nine.
Two of those who wrecked the Indian innings, left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner and Indian-born leg spinner Ish Sodhi, are part of the touring party. And Williamson was quick to remind India of their presence. “We have three very good spinners as well, and so it should be a good contest. Indian spinners in their home conditions are one of the toughest challenges in the game, particularly in Tests, so we are excited to be involved and look to adapt, having come from South Africa and Zimbabwe,” he said.
Coach Mike Hesson said the team had played on turning tracks in Zimbabwe this year and most of his men have toured India, especially to play in the IPL.
“We have spent a lot of time in Zimbabwe and Bulawayo before South Africa so that was very much a spin-dominant series and conditions. Although it didn’t spin as much, it certainly was slower and probably similar pace that we are going to face in India,” the 41-year-old said.
“Look, it’s very difficult for us to replicate those conditions at home, so the week between the series has been about rest really and recovery, and the next week to ten days is going to be critical to be really specific around individual game plans. But most of our guys have played here before and they have certainly had success in the subcontinent somewhere, so we are going to have to draw on that experience as well,” he added.