ICC World Cup 2019: Kane Williamson - Kiwi captain cool, a study in serenity
The Kiwis will seal a semi-final berth if they beat England on Wednesday, but may not upstage a home team rejuvenated by their win over India unless the ice-cool Kane Williamson steps up again.Updated: Jul 02, 2019 22:12 IST
Recriminations have surrounded England’s World Cup journey, in keeping with the drama any major sporting campaign on home soil engenders. Cheers or hand-wringing or vitriol, the Indian team always carries the weight of expectations of its enormous, and enormously passionate fanbase. Defending champions Australia are always under the spotlight at World Cups, and at this one, their narrative is one of redemption. New Zealand, in sharp contrast, are on the quietest of campaigns, cutting out all noise under a skipper who often has seemed their only batting hope, but has also been an island of calm.
The Kiwis will seal a semi-final berth if they beat England on Wednesday, but may not upstage a home team rejuvenated by their win over India unless the ice-cool Kane Williamson steps up again. Teams have been wary of chasing, but the Kiwis won their first three games by bucking the trend. The self-effacing 28-year-old has been pivotal in the wins, but has not let pressure get to his side after the losses to Pakistan and Australia.
Though the ‘more sheep than people’ cliché is thrown every time a New Zealand side progresses without fuss—six semi-finals and a final in 11 editions—Williamson did face media criticism back home after the 86-run loss to Australia. New Zealand pacers had the holders reeling at 92/5, but Trent Boult was held back as Usman Khawaja and Alex Carey revived the innings with fighting fifties. Boult’s late hat-trick was rendered meaningless after New Zealand’s chase collapsed.
Williamson’s response was zen-like. He focused on the need to adapt than on a batting that had once again crumbled and left it to the captain. The Kiwi No 3 though has amassed 454 runs, averaging a tournament best 113.50 among batsmen who have score at least 200 runs at this World Cup.
However, he remains the quiet achiever, never letting the arc lights shine on him, in keeping with leadership qualities that othes noticed in him when he was a young boy. In 2010, after scoring his maiden Test century in Ahmedabad, Williamson, then 20, was keen to talk about the technique of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
Dave Johnston, his boyhood coach, said in an earlier interview that Williamson would discuss Hashim Amla’s technique with him, because he wanted to emulate the way the South African was organised at the crease.
Williamson is small compared to most of his teammates, and vanishes into any team huddle. But this is deceptive—this is the same man whose early rugby coach was so impressed by him that he was confident Williamson would one day line up among the All Blacks.
Playing multiple sports as a child has helped build his athleticism, but it’s his leadership that has shone through. On India’s 2014 tour of New Zealand, then skipper Brendon McCullum scored a double century in the Auckland Test—he hit the nation’s first Test triple in the next Test in Wellington—and then praised young Williamson for helping him keep his focus.
Since McCullum’s retirement, Williamson has also taken along senior batsman Ross Taylor, the man who was left disillusioned with his career hanging in the balance after then coach Mike Hesson’s no-confidence saw him sacked as skipper and McCullum given the job. Taylor has scored only two fifties, but has been involved in crucial partnerships with Williamson as the openers have struggled.
The ease with which Williamson steps aside to allow teammates to shine has always stood out. Johnston had spoken in glowing terms. “He was pretty much born to the game,” he said in an interview. “He’s an especially good learner, hard-working even at a young age. And he always had the patience.”
Johnston recalled an episode from when Williamson was 12. He had scored heavily, and his father, who was the coach of that young team, reversed the batting order in a game. Coming in at No 8 with the team in trouble, he revived the innings by scoring a century with the last man.
“As they walked off the field, he let the No 11 batsman leave the field first. That showed his quality as a person. For him, it’s always about the team. He knew from an early age what was important.”
The ability to take success and failure in his stride means the dressing room will stay calm whether the 2015 runners-up go one better this time, or not.