Matches (17)
T20WC Warm-up (3)
IPL (1)
County DIV1 (3)
County DIV2 (4)
CE Cup (3)
ENG v PAK (1)
INTER-PRO T20 (1)
ITA vs NL [W] (1)
Feature

Williamson marks history with 'I'm him' performance

History made, class evident, underpinned by a defiance cloaked by a Boy Next Door visage. This is Kane Williamson

The Barmy Army's rendition of Jerusalem had just finished by the time the ball had bumped into the boundary sponge at midwicket. The applause around the ground had dissipated by the time the announcer switched on his microphone to commemorate the four, returning with supplementary cheers which highlighted how few people were on the banks and benches of the Basin Reserve. It was 10:35am on a Monday morning. New Zealand were now 20 behind in their follow-on innings. And Kane Williamson was now New Zealand's all-time Test run-scorer.
How did he celebrate? With a bit of gardening and a re-marking of his guard. A look around to check for any subsequent field changes rather than to survey those sending acclaim his way.
About five hours later, the bat was raised and the helmet off. Though not for long: century number 26, off 226 deliveries - 78 after passing fifty - was subdued because there was work still to do. Williamson always seems to have more work to do.
New Zealand had posted their highest total in a follow-on innings, though the ask for England's fourth innings was within their recent reach. More to be done and only really one man entrusted to do it.
Then came his demise for 132, which even then ended up being more about everyone else, beyond the rest of the batters to come to build on his work, which didn't really happens. England had opened up an end from which they would take the remaining 4 more wickets for just 28 more. And even then, the identity of the wicket-taker (Harry Brook bowling what Joe Root described as "filthy seamers off the wrong foot") and the manner of the dismissal (caught down the leg side) elicited a ground-wide guffaw that drowned out what ovation Williamson had as he walked off.
History made, class evident, underpinned by a defiance cloaked by a Boy Next Door visage. Yet despite his on-the-day brilliance (which actually began the previous night), England were in pole position to successfully chase for the seventh time under Ben Stokes, with a target that will slot in as the fifth highest in that time.
Williamson had the opportunity to sneak past Ross Taylor's tally of 7,683 on Sunday evening, but resisted the urge - if he gets urges, or even has vices pertaining to self-gratification - to sleep four shy of top spot on 25 off 81 deliveries. He probably could have knocked it off last week on his home patch, but only managed 0 and 4 at the Bay Oval. Ah heck, maybe he was never going to do it among his own. Too showy. More attention was paid to Trent Boult, the Bay of Plenty resident in absentia.
How good would that have been, though? For Mount Maunganui to celebrate their favourite son putting numbers behind what has been all but fact for some time - that he is New Zealand's greatest? Back in 2014, after Williamson's seventh Test hundred - a 161 against West Indies in Bridgetown - the late Martin Crowe said he'd be the best ever this nation produced. Which was noteworthy because saying someone is better than Martin Crowe is heresy in these parts, even if you're Martin Crowe.
Even being in the Mount for the 10 days around that first Test was to get a snapshot of why he is how he is. As it happens, his niece, who bears a striking resemblance, works as a waitress at one of the local restaurants. One set of diners from the UK, having cottoned on to this fact, couldn't help ask if indeed she was a Williamson. "Yes," she replied. "How do you know the Williamsons?" Presumably the family crest is an arrow pointing elsewhere.
As far as Englishman on the field were concerned, all eyes were on the Williamson in the middle, in far less hospitable mood. He was integral in partnerships of 55, 75 and 158 with Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell, respectively, frustrating bowlers and fielders to no end in attack and defence.
"New Zealand cricket is very lucky he [Williamson] is still playing and to offer another level of leadership. He'll possibly go down as our greatest-ever leader."
Brendon McCullum
Every boundary, aside from the back cut laced through third man that took him to three figures, seemed to be timed well enough to both make it all the way and drag a fielder along with it, convinced they could stop it. The dead-batting of anything remotely threatening he had to play was arguably worse. Williamson's own bowlers talk about being frustrated in the nets by a bat that seemingly turns to a pillow and puts the ball to sleep, thanks mainly to wrists so soft he must have E45 mixed in with the ice coursing through his veins. At one point, Stokes employed four fielders in catching positions between square leg and midwicket who had nothing of note to do beyond retrieving balls that had already stopped and tossing it back to the bowler. Having been in the field since just before lunch on day two, it was hard to know which was under the more pressure: the England captain's knee or the ironclad self belief he has instilled in his charges.
The latter survived, and was replenished upon Williamson's dismissal and the ensuing collapse. There is still much to do for New Zealand, and Williamson's part in all this, beyond whatever match-turning nuggets he can pass on to his successor Tim Southee, is basically done.
Has there ever been a more "I'm him" performance for one so humble and yet obviously brilliant? Monday was yet another reminder of a great hiding in plain sight. But in a New Zealand side undergoing a transitional phase following the brilliance of those he led to the World Test Championship, Williamson will become ever more visible.
Should New Zealand pull off just the fourth victory for a team asked to follow on, it will elevate this day and Williamson's part in it further. New Zealand Cricket announced Tuesday will be free entry, and all who arrive with Kiwi allegiances will arrive with the prospect of watching something truly remarkable.
The last time they queued around the roundabout this ground sits upon to see something similar was nine years ago when a certain Brendon McCullum went on to become the first Blackcap to score a triple-century. That he is here on the opposing balcony adds a little extra on Williamson's accomplishment.
McCullum once explained the difference between him and Williamson was "you sit down with him for a meal and it takes him 45 minutes to finish". Even if McCullum preaches otherwise, he must have had a wry smile as his old mate diligently chewed for 447 minutes to give this match what could be a satisfying finale.
"New Zealand cricket is very lucky he's still playing and to offer another level of leadership," McCullum said during his first tour briefing a couple of weeks ago in Hamilton. "He'll possibly go down as our greatest-ever leader."
Williamson already had the Blackcaps record for most Test centuries, led the team to their greatest ever success and, now, stands astride at the top as their leading run-scorer in the format. Next on his work docket are continuing as the main focal point in a batting line-up and a totem for a team recalibrating their standing in the global game.
None of that is any less important but comes with fewer ground announcements, less acclaim and no title to boast about. Is there a better man for the job?

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo