Sports Call: Williamson on verge of greatness

11:16 am on 13 July 2019

Sports Call - Black Caps skipper Kane Williamson earned the tag of world class batsman long before the almost-completed Cricket World Cup in England.

Black Caps captain Kane Williamson in the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground.

Black Caps captain Kane Williamson in the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground. Photo: Photosport

A Test match average of 53, a one-day international average not much lower and an all-round game to rival any of his contemporaries.

Those who felt he was a world class captain, though, perhaps didn't number as many.

But after New Zealand's thrilling semifinal win over India at Old Trafford in Manchester, Williamson has proven he is one of the sport's best leaders.

Astute, inspirational and selfless, with an unflinching belief in his players.

All those qualities were on display as he drove the Black Caps to defy the odds, bouncing back from three straight defeats to upset the top qualifiers and advance to a second consecutive World Cup final.

Given his wondrous ability with the willow, the Bay of Plenty batting prodigy is held to a lofty standard. Anything less than flawless at the crease is regarded as below par.

That flows over into Williamson's captaincy, meaning errors when he is calling the shots can draw a similar level of attention.

Kane Williamson in the nets at Old Trafford in Manchester ahead of the World Cup semi-final against India.

Kane Williamson in the nets at Old Trafford in Manchester ahead of the World Cup semi-final against India. Photo: Photosport

Such is his immense quality as a batsman, comparisons between that and his abilities as a leader have often left him on a hiding to nothing.

But it's comparisons of a different kind, which are the primary reason his captaincy has been so heavily scrutinised.

Williamson had big boots to fill when he was promoted to fulltime captain in 2016.

His predecessor, Brendon McCullum, not only led the national side to much success, he did so in an aggressive, don't-die-wondering manner which garnered much admiration.

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  • Fair or not, comparisons were always going to come.

    In batting style, and in nature, the more reserved and considered Williamson is clearly different to McCullum.

    That difference has regularly been pointed to since the former took the reins, and as recently as the Black Caps' 86-run loss to Australia in the World Cup's group stages.

    Williamson's approach was described as timid by former Australian captain Michael Clarke.

    Pundits and punters questioned why New Zealand had not put the foot on the throat with Australia battling at 92 for five, supposedly allowing them to recover and post 243 for nine on their way to a comfortable win.

    Even McCullum had his say, tweeting for the team to "take risks" and "ATTACK". All caps, no less.

    A 119-run thumping to England followed.

    Williamson, though, didn't flinch.

    Captain's Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson.

    Kane Williamson is highly respected by the best in the game, including Indian skipper Virat Kohli. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

    Before, during and after their 18-run defeat of India, his captaincy class shone through.

    The sight of the Black Caps squad tightly gathered on the Old Trafford outfield the day before the match, intently listening to Williamson's every word, said everything about the respect his players have for him.

    In his own softly-spoken way, the New Zealand skipper restored belief after those three straight losses and instilled the squad with confidence in their individual capabilities.

    Come game time, his composure under pressure was supreme.

    Williamson not only made another key contribution with the bat, hitting 67 in a modest team total, but the expert assessment he and Ross Taylor made out in the middle proved crucial in the end result.

    While all and sundry criticised the pair for their watchful approach, the two senior batsmen mustered all their nous to readjust their expectations on a tricky pitch and set themselves a target of around 240.

    It proved a masterful move, after Williamson marshalled his men to a brilliant effort with the ball and in the field.

    The skipper pulled all the right strings, perhaps proving he wasn't too proud to learn from that loss to Australia as he mixed attack and containment with precision.

    A well thought-out plan to get the prize wicket of Indian counterpart Virat Kohli. Bringing senior bowler Trent Boult back a touch earlier than expected to claim the key wicket of a flying Ravindra Jadeja. Having his best fielders in important to positions to create moments like Jimmy Neesham's stunning catch and Martin Guptill's match-turning run-out.

    In the cauldron of a World Cup semifinal, with a legion of Indian fans roaring their side on, Williamson was as cool as they come, holding onto a couple of nerve-jangling catches in the process.

    It was a display of leadership worthy of high praise, including from one of the greats of the game.

    "I felt Kane Williamson's captaincy and composure played a crucial role in this result," legendary Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar tweeted after the match.

    The Black Caps skipper, if he's not already there, is already close to becoming this country's greatest ever batsman.

    If he can lead his team to a maiden World Cup crown, with victory over the tournament favourites and hosts at the home of cricket no less, Kane Williamson might also be chalking up his greatest achievement as New Zealand cricket's greatest ever captain.