Kiwi cricket lovers have known for years of Kane Williamson’s potential to become the country’s greatest ever batsman, but 2015 was the year that a lot more non-cricket followers in New Zealand and cricket fans around the world finally woke up to how special he is.
When you combine the numbers he racked up this year with the methodical and classy way he achieved them, you get a sense of why the Black Caps are so excited about having a player and person of such quality in their team.
Williamson’s Test performances in particular captured headlines because of his phenomenal consistency.
When he went past 100 during the second Test against Sri Lanka this week, he became the highest run-scorer in a calendar year by a New Zealand batsman. It was appropriate that he broke the record set by Brendon McCullum in 2014; Williamson’s shot selection and discipline throughout the year has been in a totally different class from all his teammates, including the skipper.
Brendon McCullum also ‘only’ averaged 72.75 for the 2014 calendar year when he set the previous record of 1164, whereas ‘The King’ (as McCullum has started branding Williamson) averaged 90.15 for his 1172 runs in 2015.
Scoring big against the Australians, including 140 and 166 in two Tests, helped considerably with Williamson obtaining more respect around the world. Never has a New Zealand cricketer received such praise from Australian television’s commentary team – particularly while playing in a losing side!
To be fair to the people who only woke up to how good Kane is this year, they have an obvious excuse; the numbers he was putting together up until two years ago didn’t do justice to his phenomenal talent. By the end of 2013, after three years in international cricket, he was still only averaging 35.88 in Tests and 35.41 in one-dayers.
His run-scoring the last two years means that his career average is 49.94 in Tests and 48.02 in one-dayers. What has also been pleasing is his improved strike rate in both forms of the game. His 84.19 strike rate (per 100 balls) in one-dayers reflects the fact that without bashing the ball he’s able to score quickly in the 50-over format by working the ball around the field and playing classic cricket strokes.
Strike rate statistics aren’t as relevant in Tests, but even so, as his batting has developed he has scored at close to a run-a-ball through long periods, where he hasn’t even attempted to accelerate the pace of his innings.
It’s also significant that the 25-year-old’s century in the second Test against Sri Lanka took him to 2632 runs for the year across all formats of the game – fifth on the all-time list, led by the 2868 runs Kumar Sangakkara accumulated in 2014. Williamson achieved this from only 45 innings compared to Sangakarra’s 57 though. For a man who many people had boxed up as a Test specialist a few years ago, it shows how well he’s adapted his game to be world class in all forms of the game.
Williamson’s production of runs in Tests during 2015 can give us a better appreciation of what Sir Donald Bradman achieved over his career. Modern-day greats like Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting came and went without achieving anything close to Bradman’s 99.94 Test average. Bradman achieved similar consistency across an entire career to what Kane has achieved this year (albeit with an average nearly ten runs better).
Consistency is established by having great processes and a stable enough mindset to stick to those processes. Kane’s mental discipline and understanding of his game is his x-factor – even more so than his great natural ability and passion for cricket.
His magnificent gully fielding and handy off-spin bowling are assets of his game that shouldn’t be underestimated either. Many of the greatest batsmen cricket has seen were brilliant catchers of the ball, and Williamson is no exception.
Williamson’s modest demeanor has helped endear him to fans. Kiwis still love their cult heroes, like McCullum and even Jesse Ryder – but many appreciate the Kane Williamson style even more; similar to Richie McCaw, he lets his actions do the talking.
Like McCaw, Williamson has tremendous respect for the game he plays so well and the people involved with it. Also, like Richie, it’s well known that a key reason for Kane keeping his feet on the ground has been his family’s constant support and steady influence.
Williamson has already been groomed to take over from McCullum as captain of the Black Caps, and with McCullum likely to retire during the next year Kane will be asked to step up sooner rather than later. His approach is likely to be a very different style of leadership from McCullum’s – a lot less talk than McCullum and much more about taking the ‘follow me’ approach.
No matter how Brendon long McCullum sticks around, people around the world now know that Kane Williamson is already ‘The King’ of New Zealand’s cricket team.