By R Vishal
New Zealand cricket has been in the fringes of the cricketing elite for a little over a decade now. After losing the stalwarts of a an extremely talented generation of players that took the Trans-Tasman country to the upper echelons through their sterling performances, New Zealand have hardly been able to gather a formidable team. With the top-order responsibilities almost entirely shouldered by Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor, the rest of the team started to crumble with a slew of half-baked batsmen.
An embarrassing 4-0 loss at the hands of lowly Bangladesh saw the Kiwis hit rock bottom in 2010. A 20-year-old Kane Williamson then emerged as lone bright light with a gritty hundred in a losing cause, rallying around with the brittle batting order of Kiwis.
The next year was a rather difficult one that young Williamson endured despite being penciled very early in his career for great things. He had a dismal ICC World Cup 2011 in which New Zealand quite remarkably punched above their weight to play yet another semi-final. With the team plummeting to miserable lows in the ICC rankings table to slip even below the West Indies, the selectors had little option but to persist with Williamson.
It was not until a 69-ball hundred against Zimbabwe albeit in a losing cause after the Zimbabweans remarkably chased down a mammoth 328 that the Kiwi opener finally cemented his place as a limited-over specialist.
Williamson worked on his technique, ironing out his flaws and bringing a risk-free factor to his strokemaking abilities. His weakness against short pitched bowling was also addressed admirably by the Northern Districts youngster.
The promotion to No 3, more of an experiment than a true belief in his abilities paid off brilliantly when he rallied with the lower order batsmen on a bouncy wicket at Kimberly against the South Africans to post a match winning unbeaten 145. That knock turned out to be defining moment in his career and New Zealand had finally zeroed in on the man they could trust to build their top and middle order around.
The brittle look of the New Zealand batting order needed a reliable player; a batsman capable of steadying the ship and accumulating big scores. Although the 23-year-old Williamson’s appetite for accumulating runs is yet to be seen, his string of good knocks since the 145 puts him in good stead to build on the starts that he has made on a consistent basis.
Since the turn of 2013, Williamson has been the second highest run-getter for New Zealand, marginally behind Ross Taylor with an excellent average of 44.26.
With the return of opener Jesse Ryder from coma after a life threatening attack outside a pub last year and elder statesman Ross Taylor and captain Brendon McCullum finding form and seemingly enjoying their cricket than ever before, New Zealand are on the rise. Armed with Corey Anderson’s potential to be a world beating all-rounder and an enviable battery of seam and pace, the prediction by a New Zealand website to win the World Cup on home soil doesn’t seem like a joke after all.
His crafty off-spin has also proved to be more than handy as seen in the Auckland Test match against England last year, where his four for 44 nearly won the game for the Kiwis and his four for 20 against the mighty South Africans in the One Day International (ODI) at Paarl displayed the multiple weapons in Williamson’s arsenal.
Having captained the team as a U-19 player, the diminutive all-rounder may well make his cricketing family proud by leading his country in the future but his laboured rise after scoring two ducks in his first two ODI games, the New Zealand’s think-tank can sleep peacefully thinking about their middle order leading up to the ICC World Cup 2015.
(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)
Also on cricketcountry.com