Weekend Herald

Heartfelt plea to Sunrisers: Please don’t pick Williamson, he’s not match fit


The Sunrisers have started the Indian Premier League on a losing skid.

Kane Williamson is still on the sidelines.

These closely related stories are very good pieces of news.

If Sunrisers Hyderabad coach Trevor Bayliss is not selecting Williamson for team balance reasons rather than elbow flexion issues, he will just be the latest coach with a bone in his brain when it comes to assessing Williamson’s worth as a Twenty20 player.

The Black Caps’ skipper has missed the first two matches of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s 2021 IPL campaign because he lacks “match fitness“, after sitting out the last month of New Zealand’s golden summer due to elbow soreness.

You can take that explanatio­n as gospel or with a grain of salt — given that IPL contracts are paid out pro rata based on availabili­ty, there will be some semantic gymnastics around the difference­s between the terms “not match fit” and “unavailabl­e” — but it doesn’t alter the fact Williamson is chronicall­y underappre­ciated and underpaid in the IPL.

His class and unparallel­ed ability to read match situations should see him as the first player on any team sheet, with a (c) following his name.

There are historic reasons to be sceptical about Bayliss’ explanatio­n for Williamson’s absence. The former England coach works under the Sunrisers’ director of cricket, fellow Australian Tom Moody, who has history for leaving Williamson out of the XI when he was head coach, even when it was obvious they were a better team with him in the side.

The serenity Williamson brings to proceeding­s was sorely missing this week when the cameras caught captain David Warner blowing up in the dugout as his team butchered a seemingly simple run chase against Royal Challenger­s Bangalore.

“He was a little animated because we weren’t playing very good cricket and we lost,” Bayliss said.

“I think the umpires got it right.” This is not a dig at Warner — the best performer in Sunrisers’ history and one of the best T20 batsmen of all-time — for the sport of it. We won’t even mention a certain ethical incident that should have disqualifi­ed him from ever leading a Sunday pub side again, but there has not been a world imagined where the feisty southpaw would be a better captain than Williamson.

People point to Williamson’s unspectacu­lar 125 strike rate as an impediment to selection but that’s a one-dimensiona­l way of looking at T20 batting. Williamson plays the innings required of him to win games. If it means feeding the strike to big hitters he’ll do it. If it means taking the sting out of the opposition’s most dangerous bowler, he’ll do it. If it means trying to clear the ropes he’ll do that too, though it will never be the strongest part of his game.

He’s a quality player who improves all those around him . . . so it is imperative that Bayliss and Moody continue to leave Williamson out of the XI so he can instead spend his time in the nets practising with red balls followed by icing his elbow.

The Sunrisers finish their roundrobin campaign on May 21. It should be every Kiwi’s fervent hope that they finish outside the top four and Williamson will have plenty of time to connect with the national squad in England before the first test against the hosts at Lord’s starting June 2.

It is your national duty to wish ill upon the Mumbai Indians (Trent Boult), Royal Challenger­s (Kyle Jamieson) and Sunrisers, but especially the latter.

While it’s a shoehorned tour and while IPL availabili­ty is pivotal for the future health of New Zealand cricket, there’s still something a bit smelly about the prospect of playing a test at Lord’s without your captain and best player. So Tom, Trev and Davey, this is a heartfelt request on behalf of New Zealand fans: Do not pick Williamson, he’s not match fit.

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