Kane Williamson looked a leader long before last week, when he took New Zealand to a series win in Zimbabwe, long before last year, when he took them to victory over Pakistan in the UAE, and even before July 2012, when he headed up their humbling in the West Indies. It was earlier that year, on a windy and wet Wellington afternoon, when he saw off an increasingly vicious Morne Morkel, survived being struck everywhere it hurts - his arm, his shoulder, his box - and forced a drawn Test against South Africa that Williamson first made his claim as a future captain.
That day Williamson impressed not by virtue of his runs - and he made 102 of them - but by his resoluteness. He could not be broken because if he was, his team would break with him and that, more than the individual feat, was the most important part of being an international cricketer to him. He said so that day; he said so again today.
"That's a lot of what we talk about: playing for the right reasons, playing to move the team forward and being able to somewhat remove too many selfish endeavours - which can be a challenge in the game. There's so many stats around that they can come into individuals' mindsets but the biggest thing for us is that when we play for the team the obligation is purely to help the team and move the team forward."
New Zealand's kumbaya culture of cricket has multiplied manyfold since that day. Now it's not just Williamson that believes in taking one for the team, but all of them. Close your eyes and attend a New Zealand press conference and you will think they keep bringing the same man to the microphone, because they all say the same thing, but unlike the rehearsed corporate speak of professional sport today, New Zealand actually sound sincere.
It helps that when they're on the field, they walk that talk too. Just think of the World Cup. New Zealand represented true team culture. They were having what Brendon McCullum called "the time of our lives," and we couldn't help having it with them.
"It was a lot of fun. We had a great time. It was just a fantastic time to be playing cricket; to have it in our own country, it really changed the way the country looked at the sport," Williamson said. "In New Zealand, rugby is No.1 but during that World Cup we might have taken that spot for a brief moment in time, which it made it all that more special."
No regrets over not going that one step further? None, it seems. "It would have been nice to go all the way but still, we played the cricket we wanted to play. Someone had to lose in that final and it was us," Williamson said. "Now the World Cup's over, that's cool, and we are still looking to improve." Because next year there is another major trophy to play for and New Zealand want to win as much as anyone else.
A serious challenge on their part will likely require a Williamson in top form, even though he will not admit it himself. "It is about playing for the team in any situation. I am a believer that sometimes results or figures that you try and reach can be a distraction to achieving it. My focus is contributing playing a role that I'm given and if you are able to pass milestones along the way, thats great.," he said.
Captaincy is one of those milestones. Williamson is not likely to lead because McCullum will be back but Williamson's seniority and the experience he gains as captain on this trip will come in handy. He has admitted this trip is challenging him in different ways, with demands of both bat and brain but he has come up with a way to handle them.
"I think captaincy is separate to batting. In the field, it's applying yourself more in terms of thinking, whether it's bowling changes, fielding positions, the whole lot. And it's an enjoyable challenge, particularly in T20 cricket where there's so much happening and things happen quickly so you need to stay on your toes," Williamson said. "It's enjoyable and a challenge as well with a new-look side."
The newness of the New Zealand side should, in theory, increase the pressure on Williamson to perform with the bat more often but he insists it hasn't. The responsibility is shared by old and new players, who Williamson said will always put the team first. "It's more about looking to contribute to a team performance, a team win, and that's where we want people playing their games. Whether that means one or two guys consistently perform and hold a position that great but ultimately we want a bunch of guys that are going to be giving to the team and moving the team forward."