A big series for Kane Williamson
Several years ago when Kane Williamson was working his way through the New Zealand age-group system then-national selector Glenn Turner observed him at an open wicket session.
In his late teens, Williamson's talent was already touted for the international stage. A fairly standard field had been set as he took guard to his peers. After Williamson got his eye in, Turner became frustrated as the youngster took any ball outside off and flicked it with ease to the vacant long-leg boundary.
Turner's inquisitiveness got the better of him. He asked why Williamson persisted with riskier shots when he was well capable of threading the ball between point and mid-off. Williamson - politely, as is his nature - is alleged to have said: "Because there's a gap there, sir."
The anecdote highlights the 21-year-old's cricketing adaptability, something that is set to get a stern inspection this week courtesy of South Africa who, through Mssrs Steyn, Philander, Morkel and/or de Lange, have arguably the best Test fast bowling attack in the world.
In contrast to the perception he is purely a Test player, Williamson is capable of scoring quickly. That was highlighted by a remarkable 20 runs off five balls placed around the clock from point to mid-wicket to win the final match of the series against Zimbabwe in Hamilton. Not bad for someone who relies on MCC coaching manual finesse over Neanderthal cow-corner bash.
The onus for the next three weeks returns to occupying the crease and playing the South African bowlers with the sort of intent that will render the New Zealand win over Australia in Hobart during December as no fluke.
Having ensconced himself in the top order, Williamson has a prime opportunity to showcase why he is the special player Turner observed years ago. To say he is the next coming of Martin Crowe is unfair; Williamson is already his own man and his future captaincy of New Zealand seems a formality, such is his measured and knowledgeable approach. However, this series is about underlining the promise shown in the longer form when he became the eighth New Zealander to make a Test century on debut against India at Ahmedabad in November 2010.
Certainly his three additional fifties over 16 innings have sufficed for form. He also got three useful starts (19,19 and 34) against Australia but did not go on. Yet anyone who saw the crisp 26 he made for the New Zealand XI against Zimbabwe in Gisborne would acknowledge another Test century is close. His 284 not out (in his last first-class innings for Northern Districts against Wellington in November) hints at what lies in wait for any bowling attack which slips a cog.
Preferably Williamson's next big innings must come soon. New Zealand faces a potential crisis with its batting if cheap wickets are sacrificed to the South Africans. The addition of the extra fast bowler, the reliance on allrounder Daniel Vettori at No. 6, the dropping of Jesse Ryder, the injury to Dean Brownlie and the probable debuts of Rob Nicol and Kruger van Wyk all point to Williamson needing to assume more responsibility. He gets his chance to seize the day, the series and his career by applying himself with the bat this month.
Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday