Kane Williamson continues to break records but is his greatness underappreciated?

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Kane Williamson continues to break records but is his greatness underappreciated?
Williamson has seven centuries in his last seven Test matches
Williamson has seven centuries in his last seven Test matches
Profimedia
As Kane Williamson (33) hit the winning runs against South Africa last Friday, taking his team to a run chase of 267 and securing a first-ever series win over the Proteas with an unbeaten 133, you couldn't help but think: Was it ever really in any doubt?

New Zealand knew that in order to chase down South Africa's total, they would have to complete their fifth-highest run chase in Test cricket history and the highest successful one at Seddon Park. They would also have to cross the mental barrier of never having won a Test series against South Africa - a truly remarkable stat.

Granted, it was against a second-string Proteas outfit, missing bowlers like Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Keshav Maharaj, but they had already bundled New Zealand out in the first innings for 211 on an extremely slow surface that provided some help for the spinners. Up stepped Kane Williamson. As usual.

When the Black Caps play, you will often see fans around the ground donning sailor's hats, and using the phrase 'steady the ship'. Williamson was New Zealand Test captain for six years up until 2022, and fans have become so used to seeing him score runs when their country really needs him the most. He is always prepared to 'steady the ship'.

This is emphasised by the fact that Williamson's 133* was his fifth century in the fourth innings of a Test match - the joint most in the history of the game.

Williamson simply always steps up. In their 2019 ODI World Cup campaign, the batsman almost singlehandedly dragged his country through to the final, scoring 578 runs and notching two centuries in a team that were struggling to score runs. He was named Player of the Tournament as New Zealand felt agonisingly short in that famous final to England.

In the 2021 T20 World Cup, Williamson was going into the final in pretty poor form. In the first innings against Australia, New Zealand were limping at 76-2 after 11 overs. However, Williamson flipped a switch and found another gear, scoring 85 runs off 48 balls - the highest-ever score in a T20 World Cup final.

Again, New Zealand fell short as Australia cruised to victory, chasing 172 assertively. But Williamson yet again did his best to drag his team over the line.

In the 2021 World Test Championship final, New Zealand faced India in Southampton. Williamson's record in England isn't as impressive as elsewhere, but an invaluable first-innings knock of 49 off a staggering 177 balls against a fearsome fast bowling attack in swinging overcast conditions showed his class. He then made 52* in the second innings, guiding New Zealand to a run chase of 139.

As a result, they became the first-ever World Test Champions.

Williamson led New Zealand to victory in 2021
Profimedia

These are three high-profile occasions where Williamson produced when his country were desperate for him to do so. But in fact, he has done this on such a regular basis, that it is no longer a surprise.

They also came in different formats of the game, in totally different contexts. Against Australia, his strike rate was at a whopping 177, while against India, it was at a turtle's pace of 28. But both innings were of similar quality and importance, showcasing his versatility and ability to adapt to the situation that is in front of him.

In the IPL in 2018, Williamson also led the run-scoring charts ahead of some of the world's best batters. The definition of versatile.

The world No.1 Test batsman has seven centuries in his last seven matches, which made him the quickest player in the history of the game to get to 32 Test centuries (172 innings), overtaking Steve Smith. Another sensational record.

Williamson has often been compared to Smith, as well as other members of the 'Fab Four': Joe Root and Virat Kohli.

Kohli and Williamson are two of the modern greats of the game
Profimedia

Despite his relentless brilliance and leading the way with Test centuries - alongside Smith who has also 32 - it often seems that he doesn't receive the same plaudits as his counterparts.

Perhaps this is because of Williamson's reserved and quiet nature. He is known as the 'nice guy' of cricket. He comes across as a gentle character, often looking ice-cold in the field while rarely showing his emotions. His celebrations when reaching milestones are usually extremely restrained.

Who can forget how magnanimous Williamson was after their somewhat controversial defeat in the World Cup final in 2019? Many captains may have kicked up a fuss. Not him. He accepted the result despite a potentially crucial umpiring error with real class and composure.

Compare him to other members of the 'Fab Four'. Smith is impossible to ignore because of his unusual and quirky technique, while Kohli is loud, aggressive and passionate on the field. Not to mention he is probably the most naturally gifted batter in the world.

Root is more free-flowing than Williamson, and is a bit more fidgety and looks to constantly score runs. Williamson tends to be more patient and builds innings in a more composed and cool manner, much like his own personality.

All four batsmen need incredible patience and willpower, but this is definitely more so the case with the New Zealander.

Smith and Root shake hands during the Ashes
Profimedia

Yet he is still technically supreme and graceful at the crease, leaving outside off stump to superb effect while punishing the bad balls emphatically. 

Another factor as to why Williamson potentially goes under the radar a little more could be that he plays for New Zealand, and not one of the big three nations in England, India or Australia. New Zealand don't play as much Test cricket as the aforementioned trio, and when they do, they are usually in painfully frustrating two-Test series.

Not as much light is shone on the Black Caps when they play Test cricket, which means not as much light is shone on Williamson.

One piece of frustration that may linger around Williamson is his record in some countries - which is usually through no fault of his own.

For example, Williamson averages just 21.16 in South Africa. The issue is that he has only played four Test matches there, spanning between 2013 and 2016, when Williamson was nowhere near the level he is now.

Additionally, the four matches came in a pair of two-Test series. There's just not enough time for an overseas batsman who has barely played in South Africa to get adjusted to conditions when he's playing such a short series and when they are years apart. 

Williamson plays a shot through midwicket
Profimedia

England, India and Australia are pretty much always blessed with series that last at least three matches, as well as far more regular visits to these countries. Kohli - who most see as the greatest batsman of his generation - struggled for a while in England and South Africa, but after playing more cricket in those conditions, he managed to finetune his game.

Bare in mind Williamson is also the only batsman of the four to bat at number three, where he is exposed to the new ball much more regularly.

There is simply not enough data to say anything about his ability in countries like South Africa and Sri Lanka, where he has again played just four Test matches, with two of them coming in 2012.

Williamson's overall average is 55.91, with a stunning home average of 69.70 (the second highest in history amongst players with a minimum of 3000 runs) and a very healthy away one of 45.41. He has performed well abroad against countries like Australia, Bangladesh, West Indies, Pakistan, and India, while as previously mentioned, one of his most vital Test performances came in England against India in the WTC Final.

In fact, on Test debut, he scored a hundred in India, a sign of what was to come over the next 14 years.

New Zealand head to Sri Lanka later this year, so Williamson will have a chance to improve his numbers. They then play their only away three-Test series in this WTC cycle (which is frankly a farce) against India towards the end of the year, before wrapping up 2024 with a home series against England. 

But first and foremost, Australia rock up in town next week for yet another two-Test series. Williamson has already helped New Zealand break their duck against South Africa, and he will be looking to do something similar against the reigning World Test Champions.

New Zealand haven't been able to get their hands on the Trans-Tasman Trophy since 1990, but against an Aussie side that looked frail in their recent home matches against the West Indies and Pakistan, they won't be thinking that it is out of their reach.

Should the former skipper play both matches too, he will hit the milestone of 100 Test matches. He is also 11 T20s away from becoming the fourth player in history behind former teammate Ross Taylor, David Warner and Kohli to play 100 matches in all three formats.

Williamson is closing in on 100 T20 international matches
Profimedia

Williamson's legacy is already cemented as his country's finest-ever batsman, and in the years ahead, he can further his reputation as one of the greatest batsmen of this generation. He will consequently end his career as one of the all-time greats, but he has a chance to soar up that list even more significantly.

There is a big 2024 ahead of him, including the T20 World Cup, as he continues to eye up New Zealand's first piece of limited-over silverware.

Whatever happens, we should appreciate the cricketer - and the man - while he is still playing. Calm, cool and classy at all times, he has been a pure batting genius since he made his debut in 2010.

Maybe he doesn't get the credit he deserves. But knowing Kane Willamson, he probably doesn't care one bit.

Follow New Zealand's first Test against Australia on Flashscore.

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