Williamson quiet on his new challenge

Kane Williamson goes over the top Associated Press

When it was Kane Williamson's turn to bat against South Africa in the second innings of the Wellington Test in March, nothing was expected of him. New Zealand were 1 for 2, chasing an improbable 389 and facing likely defeat.

He was on 7 when his time at the crease seemed to have run its course. He slashed Dale Steyn to point but the umpires could not determine whether the catch was cleanly taken. He survived.

He was still on 7 when he edged Steyn to first slip and it fell short. He survived again but looked every much the child his boyish face makes him out to be.

He had moved to 9 Steyn when struck him where it hurts, cracked his box and drew tears from his eyes. Bravely, he survived a third time.

Williamson was dropped twice more before he found the confidence to reel out his high-elbow drive. But once the first one flowed off his bat with a silken touch he was a different player.

By the end of match, Williamson could truly say he had become a man. His unbeaten 102 saved the Test and some face for New Zealand. It also helped him take the next step in his career.

Before that, Williamson was just a talented youngster who had debuted with a century and faded slightly. After it, Williamson had shown he had something none of New Zealand's other batsmen could muster properly - guts. They are going to need all of his on their tour of South Africa.

New Zealand have only one senior batsman in their top six - Brendon McCullum - and he carries the additional responsibility of captaining the Test side for the first time and opening the batting. While Martin Guptill and Dean Brownlie are exciting in their own regard, they have failed to consistently inspire the kind of confidence that makes bowlers nervous.

Williamson might, especially as he seems to have made some progress since the last time he faced South Africa. Does he think he has grown? "Do you mean in height," he joked. Of course not. He knows that. "It's always good to make improvement and learn as you go along," is all he would really say about it but his numbers suggest slightly differently.

His highest score to date was achieved just over a month ago during New Zealand's victory in Colombo. Williamson's 135 was a major factor in that game and showed he has what it takes to play a role when it matters. McCullum hopes that will continue.

"We're really hopeful he is going to have a big series," McCullum said. "We know that he stood tall for us in that last match back home when he scored that match-saving hundred against South Africa and we are hopeful that he will continue to grow in this series as well."

For a young man, that may add a significant amount of pressure but Williamson is taking it in his stride. "It is always great to play a fierce opposition," he said during preparations in the three-day match in Paarl where he scored 59. On a flat pitch there, Williamson looked assured but said he won't read too much into his score because he expects different conditions and a much more hostile attack in the Tests.

"There's really not much in this surface and we should get more bounce and carry in the Tests so it may take a little longer to adjust to that," he said. Patience is one of his obvious character traits, as is quiet confidence and he knows he will need both against South Africa. "Their attack is definitely the best I have ever come up against and it's going to need a step up in level but hopefully the experience that I've gained can help me push onwards.

Williamson also does not think he will have to do it alone even though New Zealand's batting appears thin and there are few obvious candidates to help him defy South Africa. "It's going to be important for each batsmen to contribute heavily," he said in response to whether the feels he will need to do more in the middle order in the absence of Ross Taylor.

Maybe he would simply prefer to keep his thoughts on the additional responsibility he will be given to himself, as he grapples with how he is going to approach it. The raw truth is that Williamson is just going to have to get used to being relied on more and even if he does not want to talk about it, he will have to accept it.

After this tour, New Zealand have home and away series against England where they will again need a batting line-up that can withstand a high-quality attack. And after that doubtless there will be another challenge. Having even captained New Zealand in a one-day series, Williamson must know he has been earmarked as a future leader, with and without bat in hand.

McCullum confirmed the standing Williamson has. "Hopefully he will occupy that No.3 spot so for another decade or so," he said. "He has got a lot of cricket intelligence for a young guy, he is popular member amongst the squad and he works hard on his game. He ticks a lot of boxes and he has clearly got some skills as well." In the next two Tests, South Africa will see some of it.