Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
A friendly word of warning to all future New Zealand No. 3s.
The one you have right now has played 71 ODI innings since the 2015 World Cup. In 44 of them, he has had to bat in the first five overs.
So remember, in addition to the zillions of hours of training, you will have to go to sleep wearing your pads. You will have to be resigned to never being able to drink your morning coffee. It will be drip-fed through your helmet grilles. Oh, and maybe forget about bathroom breaks. You don't want to be caught on camera with TP sticking out of your PJs.
New Zealand right now are like flash paper. They just can't help but go up in flames. And yet Kane Williamson does this thing and he does it so well - dude averages 50.74 since the last time the ICC threw a party like this - that it's almost tempting to think he has made some dark deal with Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls and Colin Munro for them to get out early so he can get in and just, you know, bat.
The mostly side-on set up. The rhythmic tap-tap-tap. That
weird, no, adorable, no, weird, no, adorable, no weird little exhale into his gloves. "They get sweaty," Williamson huffed as a seven-year old grilled him in 2017. "But sometimes I don't even know I'm doing it." That last bit also probably explains why he can't stop playing the dab to third man. Or there's the more ludicrous notion that his entire game, perfected over years and years, is built on meeting the ball as late and as close to his body as possible. Whatever the secret is, this scruffy 28-year-old is on his way to becoming a one-day genius.
As much as he deserves praise for developing so tight a technique, it is only part of the story. A lot of batsmen can nail the drive and make it look pristine. Even more can cut the ball so hard it feels like a slap across the face. Everyone who makes it to international level has talent that falls on the side of extraordinary. But only a few can stomach having those shots find the fielders a little too often, or weather periods when it is way too risky to even be thinking about them. Williamson has chewed on 2107 dots since the last World Cup, second only to Rohit Sharma. He is still among the top-five run-getters in this time.
Several Williamson quirks come together to make numbers like that. The ability to read situations and conditions quickly (helps him decide what shots he can play and which bowlers he can target). The strength of mind to ignore run rates (often necessary to bat deep) And the skill to delete the last ball from memory and focus on the next. (Considering he legit forgot the part he played in this epic game, that last one may not be such a good thing.)
Calling upon all of those talents is how he stays unruffled even when he has to walk out to the crease way too early. It is also why he is so badass on bad pitches, aka those that make cricket worth watching. You know, the ones that favour the bowlers just that little bit. This World Cup has been full of them and Williamson has the highest average (96.2) of the 150 players in this tournament.
None of this is to say he is un-outable. It just takes a lot of effort, as Aaron Finch pointed out last month: "He's so damaging if you bowl wide. And he's so good off his pads that your length has to be really, really disciplined. You have to try and dry him up. It's like all great players; they don't have a huge amount of weaknesses."
Williamson has been dismissed for single digits only ten times in the last four years. That's three fewer than Virat Kohli. And a combination of his technique and hand-eye coordination ensures he is relatively insulated from the more straightforward modes of failure. Especially against the new ball.
So, to recap, he doesn't get out early, and he makes the opposition work for his wicket. Sometimes for the entire 50 overs. This is why Williamson is so valuable to New Zealand. They may lose their first wicket cheaply from now until the end of time but their fans will never be fussed - kinda like Peter Parker after a rendezvous with a rude little radioactive spider. They know something awesome is about to happen.
With inputs from TS Girish, Srinath Sripath, S Rajesh and Shiva Jayaraman