Captain colossus toughs it out again
All runs are equal in cricket’s scorebook, but for New Zealand’s batting marvel Kane Williamson some have more of a golden hue than others.
The skipper’s 19th test century on day four of the third test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi not only underlined his status as one of the world’s best, but continued his remarkable record when the going really gets tough: in the second innings of a test match.
Dismissed for a sublime 139 off the first ball on the final day of the series, Williamson boosted his second innings test average in the past five years to 64.83.
Put in isolation it’s a remarkable number, on wearing, variable pitches where batting gets trickier the further a test match progresses.
Compare it to world cricket’s other big guns and it’s even more impressive.
Sri Lanka’s Angelo Matthews is the only other batsman to average over 50 in the second innings (51.32) in that period from the start of 2014.
Then follows the rest of test cricket’s top-five ranked batsmen: Australia’s David Warner (48.30), his fellow suspended team-mate Steve Smith (46.24), India’s Virat Kohli (45.62) and England’s Joe Root (41.82). Over his career, Williamson’s second innings average of 50.04 is well clear of Root (43.53), Kohli (42.93) and Smith (40.77).
On current world rankings the batting order is Kohli, Smith, Williamson, Root and Warner, but the Black Caps skipper showed he can stand tall with any of them.
‘‘It was a very difficult innings. The great thing about Kane is he makes it look easy at times when those who’ve been out there realise how difficult it is. Such is the class of the man he makes batting look ridiculously easy,’’ said batting coach Craig McMillan.
On the same strip where Pakistan rolled Australia for 164 in October for a 373-run victory, Williamson showed all his best qualities with his side teetering, the series locked 1-1.
Legspinner Yasir Shah and offspinner Bilal Asif, who tormented Australia and a fair few New Zealand batsmen this series, were seen off despite generating significant turn. Williamson displayed an impenetrable defence, soft hands, steely determination and then some flashy stuff, the ball racing across the grass via textbook cover drives, back foot punches and pull shots.
‘‘I don’t want to rank it because it’s his 19th test century and there’s going to be a number more in years to come. Suffice to say it’s a very special innings,’’ McMillan said.
It was Williamson’s sixth century in the second innings of a test.
All the previous five were significant, starting with his bruising 102 not out to force a draw against a fiery South African attack at Wellington’s Basin Reserve in 2012.
Still in the infancy of his international career, Williamson watched team-mate Ross Taylor have his arm broken by Morne Morkel, then suffered a painful break of his own to his plastic abdominal protector, thanks to a Dale Steyn thunderbolt.
The other second innings specials were all unbeaten and led to test wins, clearly Williamson’s prerequisite for a high rating:
❚ In Barbados in 2014, 161 not out to inspire a 52-run win and clinch that West Indies series 2-1.
❚ In Wellington in 2015, 242 not out against Sri Lanka after the Black Caps trailed by 135 on the first innings, then won by 193 runs.
❚ In Hamilton in 2015, 108 not out against Sri Lanka as the ball leapt alarmingly and speedster Dushmantha Chameera was a constant menace. New Zealand won by five wickets.
❚ In Wellington, again, in 2017, he scored 104 not out to ice a run chase and a seven-wicket victory over Bangladesh after the tourists posted 595-8 batting first.
So there you have it. As McMillan noted there are plenty more to come for Williamson at just 28.
Even more mouth-watering is the prospect of Williamson going up against the other big guns in the next 18 months, with England scheduled for two tests in New Zealand next December, closely followed by three Black Caps tests in Australia then an inbound visit by India.
Let the comparisons begin.
‘‘The great thing about Kane is he makes it look easy at times when those who’ve been out there realise how difficult it is.’’ New Zealand batting coach Craig McMillan
Kane Williamson displayed his trademark steely determination with an impeccable technique in another stellar second innings display, this time in the third test against Pakistan. Inset, Williamson celebrates reaching his 19th test century. GETTY IMAGES/AP