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Kane Williamson is among a rare breed in New Zealand, a batsman who has the ability to last a whole day in Test cricket
March 17, 2013
If New Zealand escape Wellington with a draw, as England did last week in Dunedin, the weather will have aided their cause. As if on cue, a record dry summer is ending with a Test series to play. It would be unfair, though, to look past the batting of Kane Williamson in New Zealand's second innings, which has been another reminder of an emerging talent on the world stage.
Helping his team to safety at the Basin Reserve is not new to Williamson. Last year, facing South Africa, he made an unbeaten 102 against an attack featuring Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel (who took all six wickets), Vernon Philander and Marchant de Lange. It was his second Test hundred, to follow a debut ton against India, and was an important innings for someone who had not kicked on from that notable start to his career.
Williamson's career numbers do not jump off the page. A Test average of 31.86 after 22 matches is not the hallmark of a No.3, and he averaged under 40 in first-class cricket during his spell with Gloucestershire, but New Zealand are being patient with him because, beneath the statistics, there is a considerable batsman in the making. Anyone who watched his unbeaten 145 in the one-day series against South Africa will have realised that this is a batsman who can repay the faith.
Clearly, he cannot be given forever to fully bed into Test cricket but New Zealand are not so rich in talent that Williamson cannot be persevered with. Both his innings in this match - he was playing very comfortably until chipping a catch back to Stuart Broad for 42 - have suggested that his average will go one way in the long term. His 135 against Sri Lanka, in Colombo, last year to help set up the series-leveling victory was a fantastic display of batsmanship.
New Zealand have not had a steady No. 3 since Stephen Fleming retired. Williamson was worked over by the South Africa quick bowlers in the Test series in January, but there is no disgrace in struggling against Steyn and Philander on their home patch. Still only 22, he has been rapidly promoted up the order - his maiden hundred came at No.6, his one against South Africa at No.4 - and asked to forge a career in a tough position. Then there is the pressure of being mentioned in the same breath as Martin Crowe. That is not an easy burden to handle.
Ideally, Williamson would have been offered longer to establish his game before being elevated but there is a jam for middle-order slots and less of a clamour for top-order berths in the current generation of New Zealand batsman, although Hamish Rutherford has recently gone against that trend. There is a strong argument that Brendon McCullum should be batting at No. 3, to allow Williamson time to develop at five or six, but the captain feels, and his current form is compelling, that he is best as a counter-attacker lower down.
Therefore, Williamson is the man who has to be prepared to face the second ball of the innings. He has certainly been in early on many occasions. Waiting behind the 158-run stand between Rutherford and Peter Fulton in Dunedin was a novelty for him; the first-wicket partnerships of 6 and 25 in this match are more what Williamson has got used to.
So far he has faced 174 balls in the second innings and rarely looked in much trouble. England reviewed for an lbw when he had 1 but an inside edge saved him. That was against a full delivery and, perhaps, England have not dragged him forward quite as much as they could have because Williamson looks comfortable on the back foot in defence or attack. The back-foot punch through the off side is becoming a trademark.
New Zealand have also been smart in their recent handling of Williamson. They have left him out of the Twenty20 side since the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka last year. Although there are exceptions with players who instantly grace three formats, the shortest format is not the game to be honing tight techniques. That is not to say Williamson cannot adapt in the future, but right now there are a good supply of batsman in New Zealand who can give the ball a thump, far fewer who have the potential to bat for a day in a Test match. Williamson is one of those.
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