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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2015 Test batting winner: Kane Williamson, killing 'em softly

At the Basin Reserve, Williamson batted and batted, driving Sri Lanka into the ground without breaking into a sweat

Kane Williamson plays the cut, New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Wellington, 3rd day, January 5, 2015

Williamson: the librarian who went to battle  •  Getty Images

In New Zealand's last Test of 2014, Williamson had been in a breakneck 126-run partnership with Brendon McCullum, in which his own share was 20 off 62 balls. Williamson later mused: "It kind of felt like I was the library in a theme park." Theme parks, though, largely came to popularity in the 19th century's boom years. Libraries - well, they've been adored forever.
When you thumb through Williamson's game, it can feel like an affectionately compiled trove of books. The back-foot punch is the wrinkly spined hardback. The forward defence a dusty and highly prized ancient manuscript. The cuts and dabs to third man are the big-selling novels always out on loan, and that pumping of the bat in his set-up - modern and shiny - the magazine section. But there's no Twilight series here. No Fifty Shades of Grey. If you want cheaper thrills, go elsewhere in this New Zealand top order. At the Basin Reserve, as ever, Williamson was all substance; the guts of New Zealand's recovery.
He had hit 69 on a seaming pitch in the first innings. His team was 60 runs in arrears at his second trip to the crease. Before long, Tom Latham was out to a careless push outside off stump. Then Rangana Herath's ritual dismissal of Ross Taylor made another dent. Before long, New Zealand had lost half their side, and had only pushed ahead by 24 runs.
It was probably crucial that the sixth-wicket stand began innocuously. Thirty-one runs came off the first ten overs Williamson and BJ Watling faced, and their pace rarely wavered from there. It helped that Williamson had found a kindred soul to share the stand with. If he is the library, Watling is the accounting firm, invisibly running up numbers, keeping things in order behind the stumps. This was a partnership made for muted accumulation. So that was just what they did.
There were the dropped chances, of course, which were a feature of many a Williamson innings at the time. Herath let a tough return catch slip through his fingers when Williamson was on 29. Just after Williamson doubled that score, he sent a hook to Nuwan Pradeep at fine leg, whose hands seemed to swallow the ball, before it magically reappeared behind him, on the ground. There was the shy raise of the bat at triple figures, but moments after, he was dropped again, on 104, this time by the wicketkeeper. Williamson's fans like to think the cricket gods look kindly on the hard-working, so he gets more than his share of luck. Others take a more pragmatic view. Williamson is such a still presence at the crease, they think, he relaxes even the opposition. Late in the innings there was also a missed stumping.
As the lead grew to 200, then 250, Williamson was all zen. Little seemed to exist for him but the next ball and the next run. In the previous Test, Sri Lanka had been pounded into the dirt. Here, Williamson bled them slowly. Late on day four, the fielders were practically dragging the meat of their own carcasses around the oval. Williamson and Watling flitted between the wickets unwearied. On the first day of this match, the Basin Reserve had unveiled a plaque to honour McCullum and Watling's record sixth-wicket stand of 352 against India the previous year. By the time New Zealand declared, it was already out of date, Williamson's partnership with Watling having grown to 365.
He had hit 311 runs across the two innings, but there was one more contribution. On the fifth morning, Williamson climbed high, fully stretched, at gully, to claim a one-handed wonder to dismiss Sri Lanka's own rearguard-meister, Angelo Mathews. It was his theme-park moment, near the end of the Test, after the library innings that defined it. Later, when that catch had been named ESPN's top play of the day, he was typically subdued accepting the accolade. The American presenter was excited enough for both of them. "With a play like that," he said to Williamson, "it's no wonder you're the player of the match."
Determined, skilful, charmed and compelling, the 242 was a knock that set Williamson up for year in which he would go on to score more runs than any New Zealand player had done before.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf