In the winter of 2010, New Zealand arrived to face the top-ranked Test team at the time – India. Led by Daniel Vettori, the side were coming into the competition on the back of a 2-1 Test series loss at the hands of Trans-Tasman rivals Australia, at home.
Accompanying a bunch of experienced campaigners was a shy 20-year-old right-hander, eager to make an impression on his maiden trip to India – which comprised of both Tests and ODIs. The world had witnessed Kane Williamson in coloured clothing earlier that year when he played India and Sri Lanka in a tri-series in the Emerald Island, but this was to be his first foray into the format that matters.
And what a beginning it proved to be. A hundred on debut against a formidable bowling attack in Ahmedabad gave the world a glimpse of the future of international batting and also the future of New Zealand batting.
Seven years on, the 27-year-old has become one of the premier batsmen in the game along with the captain of his national team in all three formats.
Williamson’s exploits earned him an IPL contract with the Sunrises Hyderabad in 2015. After two unsuccessful years in 2015 and 2016, the right-hander has looked his best this time around, making significant contributions at the top of the order.
“Yeah, it is very much about playing the situation as best as you can, batting at Number 3 with the balance of the side that we have. You are given a role and you try to perform in the best way that you can,” Williamson told Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat.
“I think we had lost an early wicket [against DD] so it was important that Shikhar and myself tried to rebuild and get the team into a position of strength. In terms of instructions, I think it changes every game because the situation is always different and it is about trying to adapt,” he added.
The demands of modern day cricket are such that players have very little time to get acclimatised to different formats of the game. Speaking about those challenges, the right-hander said that more than technique, it is the mental adjustment that players have to make while switching between versions of the game that is the toughest task.
“Yeah, it is always a challenge. Part of the international game these days is that you play a tour and have to make those adjustments as quickly as you can and it is always quite tough. But often it is the mental shift which is the main focus because your game does not tend to change too much, so to give yourself the best chance is important,” he said.
Ever since its inception in 2003 on the English county circuit, Twenty20 cricket has seen players evolve and use different kinds of shots. But Williamson has proven to be an exception.
Using conventional methods, the right-hander has managed to conjure an acceptable strike rate of 122 in the format. When asked if he feels tempted to play the audacious shots that some of his contemporaries do, he chose to offer an interesting perspective.
“You're always looking to improve your game and T20 cricket, in particular, has seen players push the barriers of stroke-making. Like you mentioned, you see players who can do some incredible things that you might not be able to do, and that is part and parcel of the game. You just try to stick to your plans whilst trying to improve and develop by watching other players that are doing things differently and doing them well.
(Long Pause)...”I suppose there’s no specific shot (on being asked if he wanted to imbibe one shot from another player). In the T20 game, you are always looking to develop different areas in the power game. It isn’t a huge part of the game, like a Chris Gayle who hits it miles. But it is something that you are always trying to improve upon,” he added.
Playing spin is about being clear in the mind: Williamson
When overseas batsmen come to India, their ability to play spin is always a much-talked about issue. Among the ‘Big 4’ batsmen in the game today, Williamson is perhaps the best overseas player of the turning ball. Elaborating on the method he employs, the right-hander said he always tries to play straight and keep a clear mind.
“I mean there isn’t a right way to play spin. It is just trying to do what is suited to you as a player and for me, it is trying to move my feet, trying to play the ball straight and adapt to some of the strokes that are strengths in my game. And that is a challenge.
“In T20, when you have to be aggressive, you try to implement them as quickly as possible. But in terms of playing spin, in India, you can be on surfaces that react very differently and you can be on surfaces that don’t turn. It is just about trying to stay clear in your mind, have a clear game plan in case you do come across some foreign surfaces," he said.
The Sunrisers Hyderabad were the only side in the IPL who bought the Afghanistan players available in the auction. One of those players – Rashid Khan – has proven to be a real star for the team, taking 14 wickets in 12 matches.
Terming him 'an exciting talent', the Kiwi said that Rashid's strength is his pace and that makes him a lethal spinner.
“He is a fantastic bowler and we are very fortunate to have him in our side. He bowls so quickly and spins the ball both ways, it makes it tough to pick and (he is) very threatening because of how quickly the ball deviates.
"So a couple of things that people may have seen while watching, but even though he is classified as a leg-spinner, he has got so much more to offer because of the pace at which he bowls. An exciting talent," he said.
Although an established captain in his own right, Williamson plays under David Warner in the IPL. Speaking about the Aussie’s leadership qualities, the Kiwi said that Warner had to develop a really good culture within the group and added that he led from the front with the bat.
"He has led the team fantastically well. It is a challenge I am sure when you come together for 6-8 weeks in a year and you want to create a good culture and he has done that very well.
"We had a successful year last year and he clearly leads from the front, his ability to take on an attack with his aggressive batting and do so consistently is something that we aspire to do," he said.
In terms of depth, the Sunrisers are perhaps the strongest of all eight teams, with an alternate option available for most slots. Williamson felt that the side had a good balance of youth and experience, particularly in the bowling department.
"It's always exciting to come here and see some of the local Indian talent that is present. There is a huge amount of talent and we have seen it so far.
"In our campaign so far, we have seen the likes of Sidharth Kaul, Mohammad Siraj etc get game time and perform very, very well. It is a testament to the depth that we have, particularly in our bowling line-up at the moment, mixing them with the experience of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashish Nehra.
"There is a good balance. T20 cricket is fickle and so it is important that you remain fluid with your plans and play with that freedom. So hopefully, we can continue in that positive fashion," he said.
Although the IPL has seen the cream of international cricket come to India and show their prowess, the tournament still does not have a fixed window for itself in the FTP. Elaborating on that point, Williamson said that he and some of the other Blackcap players were fortunate in that regard.
"Yeah. IPL is a huge competition. The pinnacle of domestic T20 cricket in the world. From our country's perspective, there is that window, which freezes up to have the opportunity to play in the IPL if wanted, so we are lucky to have that," he said.
"We have grown as a side since McCullum's retirement"
In February 2016, Williamson took over from Brendon McCullum as the captain of New Zealand. The team has endured mixed results since, with wins coming at home, but losses away from it.
However, the team did play superbly to reach the semi-finals of the World T20.
"Certainly a year of growth. In terms of results, it would be considered another good year, but we are always looking to improve and we know there are a number of areas where we would want to touch upon to continue to be a better unit.
"Obviously, losing Brendon (McCullum), who was a huge influence on the team, was a blow. We lost a number of other senior players as well at a similar time so that meant that there was a definite transition that needed to be made, and I guess will continue to be made as long as we are learning and trying to move the team forward," he signed off.