For the first time since Glenn Turner, a batsman who retired in 1983, New Zealand have the highest ranked Test batsman in the world. Kane Williamson performed that rarest of cricketing feats to seal the top spot – he scored a hundred in the fourth innings to win a Test. It brought a truly brilliant year to an end for the quietly spoken and undemonstrative Kiwi to an end, as he finished with more Test runs in a year than anyone from his country has ever achieved.
Come this February, he may not only be the best batsman in the team, there is every chance he will take over the captaincy when Brendon McCullum steps aside. His evolution from talented youngster to New Zealand mainstay has been relentless. That he is seen as McCullum’s natural successor is just further confirmation of this.
While Williamson has always looked the part, it wasn’t until the last couple of years that he has elevated himself from talented to world class.
At the start of 2014 Williamson had a Test average of 36, and while it was very clear that he oozed class, he had yet to put together a sustained period where he showed what he could do. Since the beginning of last year, he has scored 2101 Test runs at an average of 75 with nine centuries. He has made at least one hundred in each of the series he has played since the start of 2014, including a mammoth 242 not out against Sri Lanka.
Williamson played his first Test five years ago, and it seems he has been around even longer than that. It is easy to forget that he is still only 25. After just 48 Tests, Williamson is the eighth highest run scorer for New Zealand in the format, and he has those runs at a better average than any player with more than a 1000 runs for the Black Caps. The leading run scorer for New Zealand is Stephen Fleming with 7172 runs. Williamson will smash that, and quickly.
While the numbers are great, the really impressive thing about Williamson is the calmness that he exudes. As he walks out to bat the expectation is that he will score runs, and that expectation is met more often than not. While some batsmen are exhilarating to watch, Williamson is all about understated efficiency. While AB de Villiers can be breath-taking, Virat Kohli can brutal – Williamson just gets the job.
His batting isn’t ugly. In fact, it is beautiful in many ways. His back foot cover drive is perhaps the best looking shot going around. The best compliment you can give Williamson about his batting is that it is all a bit dull. This isn’t to say he bats slowly, he just bats uneventfully. Like Jacques Kallis, Williamson accumulates rather than thrills, and we should love him all the more for that.
This New Zealand team is one that is chiselled in the image of Brendon McCullum, a swaggering figure that was all out attack all of the time. It would be incongruous for a Williamson-led side to be the same, and if he does ascend to the captaincy it will be fascinating to see how he goes about things as a leader, and whether a New Zealand with a different approach can be as successful - and as universally adored.
As a 25-year-old batsman who has only just found a way to be consistently successful, it could be said handing him the captaincy is a risk. This is underestimating Williamson. It is difficult to imagine the job overawing him. When speaking to truly world class cricketers, the common theme seems to be that they remain emotionally flat. The best players do not wallow in failure, and also do not over celebrate success. It seems that this middle ground helps them deal with the inevitable ups and downs of sport at the highest level.
This is no more evident than in Williamson. It is difficult to think of a time when he was overly disappointed or when he celebrated wildly. He will just keep on doing what he does for the next decade, breaking every New Zealand batting record in the process. He may do this leading his team, he may do it as one of those being led. Either way there is a relentless inevitability about everything he does.
It will be safe not to watch Williamson’s next innings. We all know what will happen.