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The new New Zealand of Kane Williamson

Kane Williamson
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson lifts his bat in celebration of his century. (Photo by JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

It has been a busy week for Kane Williamson. With New Zealand cricket on the rise and climbing up the ladder, the job of the skipper is perhaps the most important of them all. Especially given their illustrious history and glory in the past, the skipper of the Black Caps is an important person. Many have held the role – Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming, and even Brendon McCullum.

In February 2016, the cricketing fraternity was thrust into a shockwave when Brendon McCullum announced his retirement. While many took to social media to pay their tributes, some were not entirely convinced of this decision. While the fact remains that he did not make a return for the World T20, fans in India especially were simply distraught. They wanted one more chance to witness McCullum in action. Although they were eventually going to get their wish in the IPL as he plied his trade with the Gujarat Lions, the McCullum of New Zealand and the McCullum of the IPL are almost like two different people.

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The McCullum of the Indian Premier League is the one we all fell in love with. It was the summer of 2008, a time where the mood of the Indian public was nothing short of fun and good times. How could you blame them? The Indians under the charismatic MS Dhoni had claimed the World T20 title. Moreover, with the BCCI announcing heavy revenues in terms of viewership as well as bustling gate-taking fees, one can only assume that this was a good time for Indian cricket. So good that Lalit Modi and the Board launched the IPL. This would become the cornerstone of the existence of the BCCI and the massive seat and power they held within the enclosed offices of the International Cricket Council.

Many like myself who went to the first ever IPL match will remember it as an invigorating experience. While there were many things that certainly captivated us like the free alcohol in the bat and the cheer girls present, it was a night when I fell in love with Brendon McCullum. I still remember the loud chants when he and Sourav Ganguly came out to bat. He took the night away. Although we had seen T20 cricket, we certainly had not seen T20 cricket quite like this.

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Fast forward to February 2016. The big names in the Cricinfo world – Ashley Mallet, Andrew McGlashan, Ed Smith, and Gideon Haigh all had their work cut out. While they pondered a good piece of journalism to render to McCullum, others like myself were more interested in the way forward. Of course, there are those who will defend themselves by stating that the future of New Zealand cricket was in safe hands. However, what I didn’t realize was they were right in a respect that New Zealand cricket was in safe hands.

Kane Williamson is not a flamboyant player. Neither is he an aggressive player at that. Yet, even the great Martin Crowe stated that he would be one of the greatest in the world. Another thing that the Late Crowe added highlighted that once he was done playing cricket, he would have become a legend in every respect for New Zealand. Although I have never seen Martin Crowe bat, apart from the obvious highlight packages Zee Sports (at the time), I heeded Crowe’s word. For better or for worse.

Although Williamson made his Test debut against India in 2011 at Ahmedabad and scored a ton, many realized his true potential only when he made his mark in the Caribbean in 2014. This as far as pundits and fans were concerned was his best knock. Playing in alien conditions, Williamson showcased character and grit, something that had been lost in the sands of time in Test cricket. It was boring. It was dry. It was not as flamboyant as I liked. Yet, I was awake at 2 a.m. watching Williamson bat. It was not nice by any means. It was captivating. Something that I simply could not take my eyes off. He would go on to smash yet another ton in Barbados in the following Test. But that like said before, is indeed for another time.

A couple of years on, Williamson became the face of the New Zealand Test team. Prior to the start of the Zimbabwe Test series, the 26-year old was appointed as the skipper of the side. Was it a surprise? Of course not. A fully fit James Anderson is left out of a Test match for England. Now that is a surprise. While Williamson had indeed led the Kiwis to the semifinals of the 2016 edition of the World T20, leading the Test team is and always has been a completely different ball game.

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The new wave of Modern Day Test captains is beginning to stake their claim. Steve Smith, Angelo Mathews, Jason Holder, and perhaps even Virat Kohli are starting to stamp their brand of captaincy on the team, something that has been clearly evident in the matches they have played thus far. They are brash, abrasive, and aggressive. Yet, in the case of Kane Williamson, it certainly does not seem that way. Of course, he does indeed have a push for victory from time to time. Yet, his assertiveness wins his side over as they want to win for him.

Although I have been told several times and by several people not to judge a book by its cover, I am still guilty of doing the same with Kane. When one looks at him, it is clear that he is not an aggressive skipper. Neither is he someone whose personal life is extensively covered by the paparazzi. He is someone who has a clear conscience between his ears. Moreover, he is someone who is at peace, perhaps the trait of a perfect skipper.

His first Test series as skipper saw him complete a clean sweep. A much-anticipated and a much-expected clean sweep. Apart from the fact that Zimbabwe has not played Test cricket in almost six years, one can begin to witness the crux of the brand of captaincy employed by Williamson. He employs a very old rule in the book. ‘Kill them with kindness’ and let the bat do the talking is perhaps the philosophy the 26-year old employs.

Eventually, at the end of it all, most of the players coming from the current generation expect to be famous. However, in the case of Williamson, he wants to be successful. Success trumps fame and a great player are born. Even Virender Sehwag’s tweet questioned Williamson on what he would achieve next in Test cricket after scoring a century against every Test playing nation.

For Williamson however, it does not matter. Perhaps playing the game of cricket for him is so important that it trumps the expectations many have on him to go on to achieve and the breakage of old records set. He was modest about his skills, too, – “Everyone is gifted, I guess, but you get some that seem exceptionally so. I’m not one of them.” If that is not ‘being romantic’ about cricket, then I really do not know what is. He is quite effectively a walking textbook of cricket written by either John Arlott or Fred Trueman, and I really don’t think that you can give a batsman any more credit than that.

Also read – 13 Facts about Kane Williamson: The Gritty Black Cap

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