'This group can win a lot in the coming years'
You had been tabbed the great batting hope for New Zealand for quite some time, right from when you were 16 or 17. Who were your early mentors?
Firstly, I wasn't aware of that. I always enjoyed my cricket. And I always aspired to be better. While growing up, I had a lot to learn. I guess my father got me into cricket. Then, as I started getting older, through intermediate and college, it had a lot to do with Ben Williams, who runs a coaching academy, and also Dave Johnson, and more recently [getting coached] in the professional set-ups.
You made your Test debut in 2010, scoring a century against India in Ahmedabad. You seem to be more adept at playing spin than a lot of New Zealand batsmen. How did that come about?
No, I don't play it easily at all. I would say that I've got my own methods of how I like to play spin and that may be different from other players in my team, perhaps. They have their methods. I like to use my feet and I believe footwork is a part of my game. So I guess that is something I tried to improve from time to time. From a young age, I have had that drawn into me - using your feet to spin when you can.
You began your Test career at No. 6, but within a space of 14 Tests, you were the permanent No. 3. Were you of the opinion that your game was best suited for the key No. 3 slot?
No, not really. Growing up, I have always batted at No. 3 in age-group stuff. For me, you start enjoying perhaps, or start wanting to bat in that position. But I am enjoying No. 3 and am very much looking to improve my game in that area. I am enjoying batting at the moment, along with the challenges that come with it.
What is that challenge that comes with batting at No. 3? What sort of change in approach does it take to go from No. 6 to No. 3?
I didn't spend a lot of time at No. 6. I batted in the top order most of the times. The natural difference is that you are probably expected to play the new ball. You can also be sitting with your pads on for hours after play gets underway. So I guess being flexible in that position is important because you are not quite sure when you are going to come out.
From the technical aspect, is there any substantial change?
Ideally you want your technique to remain similar wherever you are batting. I want to be relaxed and calm at the crease. Your options of how you play at a top-order position can be quite different with the ball possibly being new and fresh as opposed to the middle or lower order where the ball tends to be a little bit older. Ideally, if the top order is doing their job, then the bowlers get a little bit tired. The biggest change is how you approach it mentally and not much technically.
Your presence at the crease is that of a seasoned veteran. You have played more than 30 Tests already, but your batting average is still in the 30s. Is there a particular reason why you are not in the 40s yet?*
Yes, I haven't scored enough runs. That is the obvious answer. It is something that I want to keep improving on and try to become a better player, and do it day in and day out. People may want me to average in the 40s or whatever, but for now, I just want to keep improving as a batsman. [After the recent Test series against West Indies, Williamson's average was 40.28]
Are there any goals as to where you want your average to be when you hit 50 Tests in your career, and beyond?
No, not at all. It will be nice to hit 50 Tests. That will be great but I don't really have goals like that. I would want to keep improving with my game and make an impact. [If] averages are getting high because of that, that will be great. But if not, still contributing while playing in the Tests - that is more important.
You have a very classical, orthodox batting technique. Someone like Rahul Dravid struggled initially in the limited-overs format. However, you are averaging close to 40 in ODIs. Was there any particular tweaks that you had to make going from Tests into the limited-overs format?
Like I said, my personal average is not that important when I am trying to contribute to the team as much as I can. That is not the concern. But coming to the limited-overs game, adapting is important. You have to know where you are getting your singles and also know your boundary options. I don't try to change the game very much. I just try to look at the situation and act accordingly. That is how I like to play it.
You hadn't played international T20s for nearly two years, but you were brought into the squad for the World T20. Was that recall a surprise?
Yes, certainly. As you're growing up, and as a very young cricketer, you always aspire to represent your country and a call-up like that always comes as a surprise, no matter how well you are doing. I got a call, and was very surprised to be in the big stage.
Since we are talking about the World T20, I have to ask you about the close loss at the hands of South Africa. Where did you think the game turned?
We were frustrated, obviously, that we couldn't bring the game home from the position we were in. But, as you know, T20 cricket can be a bit like that, and small margins can change the game around. Obviously, their big players really stood up. And if you perhaps look at the innings of [JP] Duminy - he played, under pressure, an outstanding innings, a match-winning one. And also the way Dale Steyn bowled, the death overs in particular, and all through the innings, was world-class. And we didn't stand up in those moments.
What was the mood afterwards in the dressing room?
It's not a nice dressing room when you lose, especially from a position where you believe that you should have won. And the dressing room wasn't as cheerful as it would have been had we won it.
Speaking of South Africa, you played one of the best rearguard innings in the recent years in Wellington in 2012, your second Test century. Steyn and [Morne] Morkel were on fire that day. You were hit a few times and broke your box once. Can you briefly take us through that innings?
If you try to be calm and be in the moment and not worry about things too far ahead and focus on the task at hand, you can handle those sort of challenges. During that game, we were up against such a stiff challenge that you knew you had to take your chances and stick together as a team. It was nice to come up with those runs and draw that match and show that our team can do it day in and day out.
What does that sort of an innings do to a young player like you who is making his way into the international arena?
Going into that Test, we had lost the earlier game and we knew that the South African attack was a bit tough. I had played in the past mainly in the subcontinent. To come up against South Africa was a huge learning curve and a lot of guys in the side felt the same. There was a huge amount that I learnt during that period. Facing quality pace bowlers like that also improves your game. It is something that I will never, ever forget. I want to keep building on that as well.
What does it do, in terms of your self-belief, when put in an impossible position? A win was basically out of question - so South Africa were going to go all out.
When you are up against things like that, you try to simplify things as much as you possibly can. There were a lot of runs up on the board and we were up against it. To me, it was surviving each delivery as best as you can, knowing that if you did that then it gave you a big chance; through your methods and your basics, it would give you a big chance for some success. I guess that is how I tried to play and it was nice to come off along with the boys who really contributed in that innings.
You have been a fabulous catcher standing at gully, pulling off some absolute blinders. Is there any particular catch that is a favourite?
It is probably the one in the recent [home] Test against West Indies, the catch of [Shivnarine] Chanderpaul. It was when, I suppose, we didn't get the runs that we liked in the first innings and then we rolled them and the way we took our catches was a great feeling. It was nice getting catches there at the gully position and I suppose I do enjoy that. I do see it as a good challenge.
What are some of the key aspects for a fielder standing in that position?
Certainly better catchers than me are out there. What I try to do is stay low and as still as I can, watch the striking area and react. I suppose some catches are easier than others. There are ones that you might remember, but often you are just reacting. Those are the little things that I do while at gully.
You have captained New Zealand a few times. Do you have goals and personal ambitions to lead New Zealand in all formats some time in the future?
I don't really have a goal to do that, but it certainly would be a great honour if the opportunity were to come. A few times that I've led, I felt that you want the players in your side to come up to you, accepting you as a leader, and also you cannot come up with your own agendas. That is what I believe. It will be a huge honour to lead New Zealand, but in the meantime, I will just try and contribute to the team's performances. Ultimately, that is what it is all about.
I want to talk a bit about the New Zealand team itself. You have a great set of fast bowlers, and also a very good set of batsmen. Currently, the team is ranked seventh in the ICC rankings. Where do you see it going?
This is a positive and a good young group - a group that can win a lot in the coming years and ultimately move higher and higher in the rankings. That would be, without a doubt, the goal for us. We have got the talent there, we know that. Our fast bowlers have been great. Most of us are very young. And we have some very talented batsmen. We have to get good experience at this stage and move everyone's game forward. Then we can do well in the future.
Finally, the World Cup is coming home next year. The last time it was there, New Zealand were in the semi-finals. Is there any pressure on you guys to equal or better that performance?
Yes, naturally, playing in your home conditions, it probably brings a bit more expectations. The nature of the tournament is pretty cut-throat and you want to be at your peak as soon as you hit the tournament. We know our conditions, and we have played really good cricket recently in World Cups. If we can do that, we will be positive and confident going into the tournament.
*This interview was conducted during the World T20 in Bangladesh in April