Kane Williamson is one of the leading Test batsmen of his age. But in T20 cricket, he must adapt his method, as he explained while playing for the Barbados Tridents in the Caribbean Premier League.
Are Test and T20 cricket like rugby sevens and union? Is it that much of a difference?
No. I suppose it's just subtle adjustments, certainly personally. Obviously every batter's different - they have different strengths. I just try and adjust my game as subtly as possible, and try and sort of get the ball to areas that I might need to do to generate a strike rate. So there's a few things that are clear in the T20 game, and that's, I guess, that you need to score quicker, things happen a lot faster, and you need to adapt with the nature of T20 cricket, whether you're more of a touch player or more of a power player.
Are there shots that you need to play in T20 that you'd never touch in Tests?
The T20 game certainly allows you to explore different areas of your own game that you might then bring into your other formats a little. Naturally shots like the lap and the reverse sweep - things like that - certainly aren't the first thing that comes to your mind playing Test cricket, but in other areas just to try and get the ball to different parts of the field. So you're always working on your game, which T20 always tests.
Since you first started playing T20, have you made a conscious effort to expand your repertoire?
For sure. Obviously batting like in a Test match in T20 cricket's not really going to work. But you still want to stick to the strengths that are important to your game - for some guys it's power, for some guys it's touch and it's gaps. Whatever the recipe is for your game, I think it is important you do stick to that and just try and make those adjustments. Someone like Joe Root and Steve Smith - those sorts of guys have been excellent at it. Without being huge power players, they're still very, very effective in this format.
"I try to make subtle adaptations rather than trying to slog, because I always go into the net and have a bit of a slog and realise that I'm not any good at it!"
So for you that shows that you can keep the foundations of your game, build them a bit and become a very successful T20 player without reinventing the wheel.
Yeah, I believe so. It's interesting, because T20 cricket's come in our era, so it's not like there's been years and years of it before that have kind of shown the way, so that's where it's been pretty exciting. You've seen a number of power players be hugely effective in the format, but I suppose you're seeing more and more cricket-smart guys that don't have the power and try and find a different way. Someone like Mahela Jayawardene is fantastic at it. So there's a number of guys that have done it well, that have paved the way for the guys that are different shapes and sizes that might try and skin it a different way.
What's a good innings for you in T20?
A hundred off fifty? (laughs) Whatever the team needs. We talk about the strike and things that are needed in T20 cricket, but really it's what the team needs, and sometimes that isn't 60 off 30 or 30 off 15, sometimes it's a run a ball. And you can't neglect that if the surfaces are challenging, then certainly getting a score on the board and laying a foundation's really important. So a perfect T20 innings, yes, it's scoring extremely fast and getting a good score and helping your team, but that won't always happen - it's high-risk, there's a lot of failure in this format in particular. So it is being brave, sticking to a team plan, and just trying to help the team out as best you can.
Are you always aware of what your role is in a team?
Yeah, you still need to do it your way. I believe T20 cricket is, out of all the formats, the most "team" format of cricket. Four-day cricket probably has a little bit less - it's more "team" off the field, and guys have individual pursuits and various things. But certainly the white-ball formats, I believe, are committing to a team plan and trying to do that as best you can, use the skills you have to try and execute that plan.
So it's almost like you're retraining yourself to not value your wicket too highly?
You certainly don't want to fear for your wicket. You always want to score and get as many runs as you can, but certainly not at the expense of the team, and there are innings that I think we've all seen in the past where guys have put themselves maybe before the team situation. And then scoring a big score looks really nice but it might have actually been to the detriment of the team. So it certainly is all about the team, and doing your best to move the team forward.
How different is your training process to other formats? What you do the day before a game?
I try to make subtle adaptations rather than trying to slog, because I always go into the nets and have a bit of a slog and realise that I'm not any good at it! That means trying to work the ball in my areas as best I can, and use my strengths - which is certainly not mishitting balls for six. I need to try to do it another way.
So you see this as more a shorter form of ODI cricket, rather than a whole new game?
Yeah. In terms of my skills, I do think that's the case. But saying that, it does require a higher strike rate, so that is the intention when you go out to bat. You might take a risk earlier - you might take an option that you might take earlier in T20 cricket and not so much in ODI cricket until you're in. It's all structured around what the team needs and maybe what the surface presents, and then go out there and do it as best you can.
If you're batting first, do you keep in mind what a par score is and relay that back to your team-mates?
Yeah. Opening, you sort of need to be a little bit aware of that, but you need to assess the wicket, and if it's a very good one, then it requires a few more runs. So the role to open is probably similar in all formats, where you assess the conditions, but obviously in T20 cricket the pressure's on to score quickly - use those conditions as best you can. And still a similar thing applies that if you do have wickets in hand going into the last ten, then you can get a huge score. You never know how many you can get. So there's a number of factors that come into it when batting first. But still, you have your game like every other batter in the side, and you're out there to try and make a difference for your team. Stick to your strengths and express yourself, and that's what T20 cricket tries to bring out.
"You've seen a number of power players be hugely effective in the format, but I suppose you're seeing more and more cricket-smart guys that don't have the power and try and find out a different way"
Do you think a good T20 batting line-up has a mixture of power-hitters and touch players, and that balance?
Yeah, I believe so. There's no substitute for being able to hit the ball a hundred metres over the boundary, whereas I suppose it's still worth the same if you hit it a metre over the boundary, so that's where I keep my hopes high. But yeah, I do think a good combination's important. Your own recipe to achieve a similar outcome, I think, is what you need to look at most. Rather than perhaps guys that hit it 200 metres compared to 100, you start to look at maybe their contribution in the situation. Was it what the team needed? Was it perhaps smart cricket? And I think those things are very important.
So there are times when someone might be going berserk at the other end, and you're just trying to get a run a ball and get off strike?
Yeah, sometimes. And you never know quite who that'll be at the time. Sometimes you hit the gaps, sometimes you don't, and all of a sudden you're under a little bit of pressure but your mate at the other end might be doing a lot of damage and hitting the ball miles, so you want to keep giving him the freedom to do that. Saying that, I think it is important both batsmen have an intent to score and score quickly, and are able to put the opposition under pressure.
Is it a format for specialists, or can all players thrive in it?
I just think it's something that's different. As you grow up - especially in my sort of age group and before that - you grew up trying to play one-day cricket and Test cricket. Now there's T20 cricket - and yes it's a bit of a power game, it requires slightly different skill sets. But it's just something different for guys to learn, understand, and try and improve on.