THROW BACK! Kane Williamson was on the cover of UNO Central back in autumn 2013. Read our cover story in issue 40 to find out what he’s up to, now. And read the original feature below. Enjoy!
FOR SOMEONE OF SUCH A YOUNG AGE, MUCH HAS ALREADY BEEN SAID AND WRITTEN ABOUT BAY OF PLENTY, NORTHERN DISTRICTS AND BLACK CAPS CRICKETER KANE WILLIAMSON. BEN GUILD CAUGHT UP WITH NEW ZEALAND’S FINEST YOUNG BATSMAN BEFORE THE RECENT SERIES AGAINST ENGLAND.
WORDS BEN GUILD PHOTOS QUINN O’CONNELL
In cricketing circles there’s long been stories about some kid called Kane with more drive than Jeffrey Archer’s Abel. At first they passed between those in the know, telling of runs upon runs flowing from the blade of a small boy. Then, a decade or so ago, the stories went national. Said boy had scored four centuries and a 98 in a week at an U14 Northern Districts tournament for Bay of Plenty with a bat with a back-story. As stories go, it isn’t bad – think the rise of King Arthur. “That tournament; there was a big write-up in the Herald and stuff like that,” says Williamson in his measured way while seated at the dining table of his parents’ Tauranga home. “I got given this bat by [Northern Districts and former Black Caps bowler] Graeme Aldridge’s father, who was cleaning out some house for his friend…I got given this stick and it was [English batting maestro] Graeme Thorpe’s old bat. I was using that at that tournament so there was a big thing about the bat and the runs. It was an old bat even when I got it – he would have used it five years before perhaps, or maybe he didn’t, but it was from him apparently. It was a good stick.”
The 22 year-old product of Pillans Point Primary School, Otumoetai Intermediate and Tauranga Boys’ College, who say she always wanted to play for his country, relates his rapid rise through the age groups in the manner of a modest young man blessed with extraordinary ability. He hesitates when asked when he knew he’d be good enough to foot it with the best in the world. “I guess you don’t really know, because it’s always your dream and things so you keep playing and you’re working hard and you never really quite realise until you’re named in the team in some ways.
“I suppose going into first class cricket and scoring runs makes it a little bit more believable in terms of playing with and against guys who have played for New Zealand. “It’s always a surprise and it always happens sooner than you think because you don’t really expect it. You just keep working away and scoring your runs and let those things happen.” AGAINST THE GREATS Over the years Kane has had plenty of such surprises. Plucked to play for both the Bay of Plenty and Northern Districts senior sides while still at college, and being chosen to lead New Zealand to the U19 World Cup in Malaysia in 2008 were chief among them; until he was named in the Black Caps test side to play India at Ahmedabad at just 20 years of age.
There he lined up against a collection of cricketing greats including Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag. He responded by taking his first test wicket as the Indians plundered 487, before batting for six-and-a-half hours in compiling 131 runs from 299 deliveries. The ‘work’ of which he often speaks began in earnest at a young age. Countless sessions with his father Brett filled his formative years before David Johnston of Te Puke and, more lately, Bay of Plenty player/coach Ben Williams, at either William’s purpose built Te Puna facility or the grass nets at Mount Maunganui’s Blake Park, combined to mould Williamson into one of the rarest things in sport – a New Zealand batsman without a discernable technical weakness and a mind to concentrate against the world’s best for hours – not minutes. In more recent times Kane has had a bitto do with Northern Knights assistant coach James Pamment, but it is Johnston’s influence that looms largest.
It is for this reason that the few games of club cricket he has played since leaving college have been for Te Puke. At times when he bats the opposition look lost for ideas on how to remove him. In the second innings of last summer’s drawn third test against South Africa, Kane was the only New Zealand top order batsmen to pass 20. He batted for the best part of the final day while his skipper Ross Taylor sat in the hospital with a broken arm. He consumed 228 balls from the attack widely considered to be the world’s finest in compiling a crucial 102 not out that secured a draw against the number one ranked side. The knock was not without its moments.
A jagging 140kmph delivery sliced him, and his protective box, in two – something for which a mid-pitch Dale Steyn, one of the world’s premier fast bowlers, offered absolutely no contrition: “I’m not apologising so…I’m not going to apologise.” Kane rates that as his finest innings, though reckons his superb, series-winning 145 not out against the same opposition in a 50 over match in Kimberley in January this year to be not too far behind. That knock received high praise from New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, who said Kane had played an innings as good as any he had ever seen by a Kiwi in one-day international cricket. Both tons were hugely satisfying given the quality of the opposition.
“The best attack I’ve faced would be South Africa and the quickest bowlers would
be maybe Steyn or Morne Morkel,” says Kane, who laughs in bemusement a little while struggling to find words to do justice to South Africa’s other world class quick,Vernon Philander. “The best bowler at the moment is probably Philander. You get him on, sort of, well, most wickets but one he feels comfortable on, that has a little bit in it, and he bowls pretty demanding areas. It certainly moves both ways and he gets a little bit of swing and he just bowls in that great area all the time. Against us he’s been outstanding and he’d probably be the toughest with that new ball.”
SPORTS MAD FAMILY
Kane says his family – father Brett, mother Sandra, older sisters Kylie and Anna and twin brother Logan – are beginning to enjoy the subtleties of a game that many can neither stand nor understand. “We’re definitely a sports mad family. I think more recently they’ve got more into cricket as perhaps I’ve developed a little bit, but Dad was always right into cricket. My sisters were right into volleyball and my brother as well. We always played a variety of sports – basketball and rugby and things like that. “They’ve all finished their degrees and living in various places but the Bay’s always home I think – we’ve grown up here.” It was that shared love of sports, coupled with a fair amount of natural athleticism and hand/eye coordination, that allowed Kane to thrive at a number of sports. Impressively, he made the Roller Mills rugby side as a first five-eighth in his first year playing the sport, and thanks to mother Sandra’s love of basketball formed, along with brother Logan, a guard tandem not to sneezed at. The twins both attended Tauranga Boys’ College, and judging by the warmth with which he speaks of it and his interaction with its schoolboys while some photos for this story were taken, Kane is clearly pleased with that decision. “Tauranga Boys’ College was great. Logan and I went to Otumoetai Intermediate, and we had to make the decision about which college to go to and we ended up going to Boys’ for a variety of reasons. I certainly have no regrets about that – it was a great opportunity for myself academically and sporting-wise as well so I found it fantastic.” But then, school would be fun if in your final year you were a transient head boy splitting time between taking classes and collecting payments for playing first-class cricket among current and former internationals, wouldn’t it?
Kane says it was a great honour being named head boy, though is quick to note his deputy did most of the work. Perhaps it’s that honesty that sets him apart from some of his peers at a time when the public perception of some members of the national side – and indeed the staff surrounding it – is of dishonesty and unearned arrogance.
His name is usually the first one raised as a counter-argument when callers – personally hurt by the latest capitulation of the New Zealand top order – vent their spleen over the airwaves about a batting unit without the technique, application nor inclination to bat time at the top of the order. At the crease he is rarely hurried, or harried; in a test match at home against Pakistan he was spotted playing strokes while blowing bubblegum bubbles.
POSITIVE SPIN ON NEW ZEALAND CRICKET
He plays a straight bat when asked about the current state of New Zealand cricket, which is still trying to overcome the falling out between former captain Ross Taylor and new coach Mike Hesson. “Everyone’s sort of got their opinions, but at the end of the day we’re in a position where we’ve lost a lot of players in recent years, going back to the years of Fleming, Astle, McMillan, Cairns…so we are in very much a rebuilding phase whether we like it or not. That’s frustrating for everyone at times but it is important that we do put in place the systems we are trying to do at the moment, and I think that is happening.
“We have to use the little bits of success we have had – which has been fantastic
– to move the team forward so we can keep improving and ultimately develop a consistently winning side. At the moment it’s tough times. It’s frustrating and it’s tough at times but we need to acknowledge it so we can keep improving. “We’re the least best at the longer format (test cricket). In order to do it you have to play consistently the best cricket over a long period of time and that’s why it’s how you’re marked as a player and as a team. Test cricket is a good judge really. The shorter formats, as you get shorter and shorter, it can be a bit more of a leveller, which is great. Hopefully our game improves a little bit gradually over those shorter formats and ultimately contributes to the tests becoming more competitive.”
Despite recently posting one of the highest scores in the history of New Zealand limited over cricket – the masterful 145 not out in New Zealand’s first ever series win in South Africa – Kane wasn’t required for the T20 internationals against England. Many would argue he should be among the first picked in any New Zealand side, but the cricketing purist and avid guitarist is diplomatic when the issue of a cricketing calendar swelling with T20 cricket is raised. “It’s good for the game in some ways – it introduces a new dynamic to the game. Also, other players who may not have played at the high level previously are now exposed and have the opportunity, which is great. It’s something I’d like to improve on at some point and be able to play more of, but I certainly hold test cricket in the highest regard just because, in my opinion, it’s how you’re marked as a cricketer and how you’re remembered.”
So how will Kane Williamson be remembered? He’s passed 1000 test runs before his 23rd birthday, with a three test series against the highly rated English likely to be completed by the time this edition goes to print. He’s been earmarked as a future test captain after becoming the youngest player to lead his country in a one-day international at just 21 years of age, and has skippering his English county side Gloucestershire on occasion. He’s already notched three test centuries – against the powers of South Africa, India and Sri Lanka no less. Schedule permitting, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to suggest that he will one day have scored more runs in test cricket than any other New Zealander. It’s the same old story from Kane though,
“I’ve got various goals but obviously it just comes back to now really – how you’re going now and letting those things in the near future look after themselves a little bit.” Who knows how this one will end?