There is a vast difference between conditions in India and the Oceania part of the world. It is never an easy task for the Australians or New Zealanders to adjust to the Indian tracks immediately on a tour; the first tour is always a tough nut to crack for those guys. In 2010, a New Zealander entered the big picture in cricket. His appearance was something like this, baby-faced with dimples and sans the beard; the 20-year-old Kiwi was handed his maiden Test in India and not everyone had expected him to fire immediately. The cricket fraternity watched him in awe as he scored a breathtaking 131 off 299 balls.
That’s how Kane Williamson announced his arrival in Test cricket. He came from a sporting family. His father played Under-17 cricket for Northern Districts, his mother was a representative basketball player, and his sisters played volleyball at age-group level. However, Williamson at the utmost modesty suggested that a lot of players are gifted but he was not one of them. Seven years later, today, he is the New Zealand skipper across formats and averages 51.16 in Tests, 40-plus in ODIs and 34.50 in T20Is. In the modern era, he is considered to be among the top four batsmen – the other three being Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and Joe Root – all four of them being Test captains of their respective teams.
Williamson was given the captain’s armband after Brendon McCullum bowed out of the game in 2016. Ever since then, he has led New Zealand in 14 Tests, where he has won six, lost four and drew three Tests. His overall win percentage has been 42.85, the best so far among all the previous BlackCaps’ skippers. His best-ever season was in 2015 when he registered 1000-plus runs in a calendar year for the first time. He averaged more than 90 in eight Tests he played, which was inclusive of five hundreds and four fifties. The next year when he began the new role of captaincy, the pressure that came along did not hamper his touch with the bat.
He still managed to end the year with a modest average of 53. 40. There have been many instances when the opposition has gone crazy in an attempt to dismiss the young man. However, with time, Williamson’s game has begun to expose slightly. There has been a weakness which has been targeted a lot of late.
New Zealand’s previous two Test series this year were against South Africa and Bangladesh. The first was against Bangladesh and the opening match was played in Wellington. Williamson, playing at his best, scored a half-century in the first innings followed by a ton in the second. In the Christchurch match, New Zealand batted only once and the skipper was sadly dismissed for just two runs. Then came the Proteas in the Kiwi land. They eventually won the three-Test series 1-0; it was Williamson who led from the front in the other two Tests with two hundreds to help his side draw the Tests.
Out of the last eight innings, Williamson batted, he was dismissed six times by a right-arm pacer. Twice by South Africa’s Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada, once by Bangladesh’s Taskin Ahmed and Kamrul Islam Rabbi and once by West Indies’ Kemar Roach, which happened on Friday on the first day of the opening Test between New Zealand and West Indies at Basin Reserve.
After West Indies displayed a solid defensive tactic in the early hours of their first innings, New Zealand skipper made a quick change of plans and set up a trap for them against Neil Wagner, who eventually tore apart the West Indian line-up with career best of 7 for 39. Then came the hosts’ turn to bat. New Zealand openers Jeet Raval and Tom Latham took the side off to a great start. They put up 65 runs on the board before the latter was sent back. There still was no panic in the dressing room because the fall of the first wicket meant the best batsman of the team would walk towards the batting crease.
In the first innings, Williamson was appreciated for his superb field placement for Wagner that helped the bowler rip apart the West Indian batting line-up. The skipper received the taste of his own medicine when Jason Holder put two gullies for Williamson. The Basin Reserve surface that produced extra bounce aided the fast bowlers. He survived for nine balls when Roach attacked him with short of length deliveries before he fell for the final one. He cut the third ball of the 30th over that went straight into the fielder’s hands; Williamson departed for just two runs.
It was not for the first time when Williamson was victimised against short balls on a bouncy track. He had once confessed that on several occasions he has been among the batsmen who have failed to judge the right ball on surfaces like those. He has played a cut or pull against the balls that in the first place should have been left. He has once again repeated the same mistake.
Williamson is among the batsmen who rarely show emotions and hence that helps them build up a better temperament that in turn only makes them more sturdy. He has always opted to stick to the orthodox old-fashioned style of game, which most of us call the textbook approach to the game. He struggles neither against spin nor pace but the latter has been his less friendly companion so far in his career.
Out of Williamson’s 101 dismissals in Test cricket, he has fallen against a pacer for 66 times and out of which, the bowler was a right-arm fast bowler for 56 times. In the last four series New Zealand have played against West Indies (including the current one), Roach has dismissed Williamson a total of five times – with the fifth dismissal he bagged on Friday, he became the pacer who has now dismissed Williamson in a Test innings for the most number of times.
Williamson has managed only a score of 52 as his highest against Roach, that came in the 2014 series. While the New Zealand captain averages 61.16 overall, he has an awful average of 14.8 against Roach in five innings.
Out of those five dismissals, four have come off short-pitched deliveries and by now, all the teams would have been aware of how to crack the tough nut, Williamson. The sad part of the story is that Williamson has repeated the same mistake time and again. And if he continues to do so, it will make the opposition to dominate him more than often in the coming days. It won’t be wrong to say, the decoding has already commenced. Earlier this year, when Morkel dismissed Williamson on 176, that was off a short ball. It was a quite familiar fashion in which the BlackCaps skipper had thrown away a knock that could have given him his second Test double.