March 20, 2015

The serenity of Kane Williamson

He is assured, humble and intelligent: a player opposition captains and bowlers find hard to combat

What will Kane Williamson display when the pressure is at boiling point? Certainty © Getty Images

"Sometimes it's the people that no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine."
- Alan Turing

Imagine a World Cup winner, a hero, a man at the height of his powers showing the world what he did to get there: the sacrifices, the years of hard work, the whole journey. Imagine who will be the one, or the group of players, who will lift that trophy on behalf of a proud nation? Imagine who that person would be.

For me, I imagine it to be a young, normal, grounded person. He is humble, intelligent, and he lives his life in the moment he is in. He doesn't fret or worry, he doesn't lash out or criticise, he doesn't seek anything except to do a job, the one he was born to do. He is Kane Williamson, from a quiet, serene seaside town called Tauranga.

His job is to stand up to each ball thrust in his direction. His job is to manoeuvre the ball into a gap, to score runs for his team. He has learnt, via the various formats of the game, that he can score in different moods; accumulate, improvise, graft, wear down, all out attack, or as he did against Australia, pull off a miracle shot under the utmost pressure.

His job is to do it all, whenever the situation demands it. His job is to play what is in front of him. It's a daunting assignment, carrying the hopes of a rugby nation. Not for a minute has Williamson thought of doing anything else in his life than show what New Zealand is made of.

While an extremely busy player, it's his quiet defence that stands out. The ball is met with a cushion in his hand, his framework right behind the line, his head staring the action down. In a Test he will make the bowler pick up, in a one-dayer he will slightly angle and delay the stroke and deflect to behind square for a run. The risk is minuscule, the effect is huge in the long run. The bowler has to go wider or straighter than off stump. With width and length to exploit, Williamson is in his element with a back-foot punch to rival those of Kumar Sangakkara and Sachin Tendulkar. His straight and leg-side play is astute and accurate. When the spinners come on, he jumps, skips and dances his way into the ball, creating power from seemingly nowhere.

Williamson is a difficult player to focus against. Due to his humility and lack of ego, it is harder for bowlers and captains to get ramped up about the absolute necessity to remove him. His passive body language gives very little to feed off. It's noticeable that fielding sides are not sharp when he is at the crease, often spilling catches that would otherwise be taken if a sharper focus was created. Williamson has that X-factor, which no one can quite pin down. Frankly, he is David playing like Goliath.

From the beginning he was a spark about to catch. Batting suited him from the minute he picked up his first bat; he had the perfect height, balance, fast-twitch muscles, electric feet, an inquisitive mind. Then he began to grow. Around him was an environment of support and knowledge. He appreciated both and never forgot his origins and roots.

They were humble and wise people who saw in Williamson an opportunity to light the flame, to fulfil precious potential, and to help a kid embark on a dream. In this space, Williamson's imagination took off. He didn't just score runs, he created masterpieces. Huge centuries, on a regular basis, came from a young mind that could see what no other around him could see. He was very normal, yet in his mental playground he saw way beyond the pale.

Batting suited him from the minute he picked up his first bat; he has the perfect height, balance, fast-twitch muscles, electric feet, an inquisitive mind

By the time he left school he had chalked up over 40 centuries in all forms, at all levels. At such an early age, he was sitting alone on automatic pilot. No one came close to him on the pitch. Off it, he was and still is, and will always be, someone you would be privileged to get close to.

A few years back, I met him on a couple of occasions, and offered some insights. He had just started to play first-class cricket when we had a one-on-one net session indoors in Hamilton. I left our session marvelling at what I had learned. He was a sponge, and he was also a giver. He kept the conversation alive, and you felt you could talk and share for yonks, that it needn't end. He sought a new way, a different option, another route to scoring big. Since then, he has climbed into the list of top ten batsmen in the world. Since then he has smashed down every milestone as he gets better and better, becoming more assured in his method against the very best bowlers.

As we speak, Williamson is the man I imagine playing the innings to take New Zealand home. I have every right to feel it could be Brendon McCullum or, selfishly, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill, both of whom I know intimately. Yet for all their wonderful gift and resolve, Williamson is the one who has a deeper understanding of where he is heading. There is no confusion, only sheer clarity of mind and body.

What will Williamson display when the pressure is at boiling point? Certainty.

That kind of composure is rare, not normal. Be assured, he will have played this over and over in his imagination. Therein lies the secret. To see it first. To own it. Then go get it.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand