|Kane Williamson - tests or T20?|
'Experts' and arm chair selectors alike are torn on what is best for Williamson and New Zealand cricket - not just in the now but for many fruitful years to come. There seems to be little middle ground in people's thinking - either Williamson must be a part of all New Zealand teams or he should be rested from the international T20 arena. Who's right will likely only bear out in seasons to come but the wrong move now could delay the young man's cricketing ascension.
Those who believe that Williamson's, and New Zealand's, best interests include the young Northern Districts whippet playing T20 internationals will point to his astonishing finishing in the final match against a struggling Zimbabwe. With New Zealand requiring 26 off the final two overs, both McCullum brothers were caught in the deep leaving nine balls to finish the innings and save Kiwi blushes - Williamson needed only five. He showed timing, placement and cricketing nous to score 20 and save New Zealand the embarrassment of a loss to Zimbabwe with 2 balls to spare. The innings was one that many thought would silence any doubters, but has it had the opposite effect?
In five matches Williamson averages 60 at a little over 140 in T20I but the numbers are deceptive - he's only compiled 120 international runs. In 40 matches at all levels Williamson averages below 20 at marginally over run a ball, on par with his efforts in this season's HRV Cup, but his batting seemed almost an afterthought in a Northern Districts side full of hitting options. The shining light was his economy rate in the 2011/12 domestic game at a miserly 5.74 - the competition's most economical bowler. The intriguing part is he has only bowled 30 balls for New Zealand.
While he can compete and help New Zealand, should he be part of the setup in the immediate future at least? Will his continued use in international hit and giggle affect his test game? At 21, Williamson has time on his side.
New Zealand is developing their spin stocks in McCullum, Hira and Nicol, and there is no shortage of batsmen if others do their job. With Taylor waiting in the wings after the South African series and Ryder back in the squad after another injury, Williamson's inclusion is not a necessity.
For all but jockeys, Williamson is a small man. He has shown impeccable timing but lacks the brute power of his peers so when caught a little short he can't muscle the ball to, and over, the boundary like McCullum or Guptill can, while still holding technical shape. He needs bottom hand to achieve any power whilst his game relies on batting's more subtle arts. As a result he is forced to hit to areas he would usually avoid. Over time will it prove detrimental to his test cricket development?
In a short test career Williamson has achieved only modest numbers but the manner of his play and obvious cricketing mind have shown all what is possible. A burgeoning test average a shade over 30 defies his test potential but he has his maiden test century, 131 against India on the subcontinent, and another three 50s to his name in just nine matches. Since his test debut as a baby faced 20 year old, Williamson has looked bound for greatness. His technique, though with the gaps of a man just starting his international journey, provides him with a base most senior players would envy and his temperament seems inclined towards the lengthy not the flashy. Not since Stephen Fleming has a young Kiwi looked to have the cricketing world as his feet – I discount the deeds of Ross Taylor for though he has amassed impressive numbers neither his technique nor mental ability have shown marked recent growth.
Given time to build on the early promise, and with a lot of hard work, the international game appears to open out before Williamson. Like Turner, Wright and Crowe before him, a stint in the daily grind of the County Championship would help the young pretender hone his undoubted batting talent in preparation for the fierce examination at test level. Coupled with Plunket Shield cricket and New Zealand’s test schedule, application to his craft will carry Williamson a long way – Martin Guptill’s growth in international cricket illustrates that. The volume of ODIs New Zealand plays will allow him to develop the attacking side of his game without the immediacy of T20 pressure – a challenge he has relished with two centuries at 36.20 in his first 19 outings.
The knowledge that comes with learning his game in the longer formats, without the confusion and urgency of T20 tactics, will not only aid in the test and ODI arenas but will give Williamson the cricketing introspection to excel in international T20 in the future.
I am a proud New Zealander who adores test cricket. My thoughts may appear lopsided but test cricket will forever remain the pinnacle of our great game. Regardless of whether Kane Williamson continues to play T20 internationals in his formative cricketing years, he will undoubtedly have a long and successful New Zealand career.
We quickly forget that today's greats such as Ponting, Kallis, Tendulkar, Dravid, and Sangakkara, among others, didn't have the pressure of T20 early in their careers. They spent time building an innings, fine tuning their technique and learning their game before joining the T20 circus.
The question will remain, as it does with young tyro Doug Bracewell, whether T20 will delay his ascension to his position among Crowe, Turner, Reid et al. – time will invariably bear that out. My views hold little weight; such influential decisions sit with John Wright and Kim Littlejohn, who are making steady progress and creating undoubted depth. Like most New Zealand supporters nothing would make me happier than to see Williamson lead his country in years to come and end his career among the game’s elite – time will tell.
If my writing seems a little confused this week, please blame my little princess. My wife gave birth to a little girl a few days ago so what you're reading are the sleep deprived ramblings of an exhausted but elated Daddy.