Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Test preparation 101 - the KSW way

KSW raises his bat - more please...

After a short autumn break New Zealand are due to head to the Caribbean, and Florida, to do battle with the West Indies. While a struggling Windies side tours England, their Kiwi counterparts are spread far and wide – preparing on their own before a short pre-tour training camp. They will emerge from a glut of IPL T20 cricket on the sub-continent, the gyms and the indoor nets at home and the daily grind of County Cricket.  Along with Martin Guptill, emerging talent Kane Williamson has chosen the latter – an expectant cricketing public waits with baited breath.

Kane Stuart Williamson is the most promising youngster to emerge in New Zealand cricketing circles since a Harry Potteresque Daniel Vettori made his test debut 15 years ago, as a naïve 18 year old.  The 21 year old Northern Districts batsman has the potential to be a true great of our game – a prodigy long earmarked to reach the top of the cricketing mountain.

Williamson struck 131 on test debut against India on the sub-continent – only the eighth New Zealander to have achieved the feat, yet he struggled to find his feet through much of 2011. The arrival of a confident South African side was the challenge he needed and he made lengthy strides forward in the 2011/2 home series. His second test hundred, 102 not out, to guide New Zealand to an improbable draw on the fifth day of the final test showed a new found maturity. As Martin Crowe had done so many years ago against the alpha male Andy Roberts, Williamson was forced to rely on his mental strength against a rampant Morne Morkel supported by Steyn, Philander and de Lange – whether it was a turning point will be borne out on his Caribbean crusade.

Williamson has chosen Gloucestershire as his training ground for the tour ahead – the daily grind of County Cricket allows him the opportunity to continue his development. Like Guptill, he has chosen the path he believes will provide the best results, and to date it’s hard to argue. Williamson’s short 2012 County stint at Nevil Road has provided Gloucestershire with much needed runs but will New Zealand cricket be the bigger benefactor?

County Cricket has allowed Williamson to hone his prodigious talent playing testing cricket on a regular basis against bowlers who continue to challenge both his technique and his mental approach. It has allowed him to develop his game to better withstand the rigours and variety of test cricket.

Would Williamson have got the same grounding in the extravagance of the IPL? The BCCI’s money maker would have allowed him to mix with a number of world-class cricketers and glean their collective wisdom, but how much would he have learned about his own game? It’s unlikely he would have been a regular starter and much of his training would rightly centre on the required T20 skills – skills that have their place but provide little benefit to his development as a test mainstay.

Instead Williamson has taken personal responsibility to do what he believes is best for his career and it's paying dividends in County Cricket - that’s not a swipe at the IPL. When a young technician is secure in his technique and mental strength the fast-paced brevity of T20 holds no demons; when he isn't it can be counterproductive.

The third alternative was to remain in New Zealand with the repetitive regime of indoor nets, throw downs and technical work – the drawback is a lack of opportunity to put any new skills into practise. Williamson is making those adjustments in a live situation, developing his abilities against strong line-ups in bowler friendly conditions at the start of the English season. It has allowed him to carry on his cricket fitness from the South African tour where he stood head and shoulders above his peers as a shining beacon of hope for a fast sinking Kiwi ship.

Williamson’s decision to return to Bristol has proved fruitful. 111 against Yorkshire at Nevil Road took him to his third first class century in consecutive matches – the first coming in the final test of the South African series. In three Championship matches he averages a shade over 56 and has added a dominant 112 in the CB40 match against Leicestershire – his stint in England is providing clear dividends.

Are the conditions Williamson is encountering in England anything like he’s likely to experience in the West Indies? No, but neither are the Indian roads or indoor nets. What it has enabled is a better understanding of his game - as a young man there’s a lot to like about that.

New Zealand’s tour of the West Indies kicks off with two T20 internationals in Florida (that’s a discussion for another day) in late June before five ODIs and two tests in the Caribbean. New Zealand needs Williamson to take his game to another level and a despondent Windies side provides that opportunity – will the lessons learned in his stint at Gloucester translate to the international arena? It’s time for the young pretender to lose the potential tag – left too long unfulfilled it becomes a noose – just ask Tim Southee.

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  1. There is an awful lot to like about his game, but the challenges coming up will be pretty severe. Roach is not proving at all easy to handle, even for England. Narine may be playing, and if so would be doubly difficult for KW as he won't have played against him in the IPL. The environment is likely to be fairly difficult too, much warmer than county England or New Zealand, much more humid, much bigger and more vocal crowds.

    1. The conditions will be different - no doubt, though by all accounts the wickets are pretty dead. Though I have a soft spot for Roach I think Narine will hold the key, especially at Sabina Park. I doubt whether KSW would have played much in the IPL anyway so would likely have missed Narine anyway. It will be another steep learning curve for the young man, but his time has come - he needs to take the lead that Taylor seems to lack when the pressure is on. Roll on July!

  2. I still can't believe NZC haven't paid some county - I don't even care which one, even Hampshire would've done - to sign Tim Southee.

    As for this piece, you know I love it. And the WCOTY 2014. Almost equally. ;)

    1. The Southee issue is an odd one - the lad is full of talent but seems victim of the potential tag. I think he would have got picked up for the T20 but you're right, County Cricket would do him good. Given the early season start and the weather conditions he would have been a tricky proposition.

    2. Completely agree. Overall 2011/12 has been one kick in the teeth after another for him. Bad performances for NZ all around, one or maximum two good games for ND, then dropped by NZ, not retained by Stephen Fleming over at the Super Kings, not retained by Essex for the FLT20 and so on and so forth. I'm quite certain he's not the easiest to work with, heaps of potential with early success can make someone's head swell a bit, but witnessing these developments over my winter - like Car Crash TV, honestly.


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