Black Cap Kane Williamson raised the nation’s hopes in the World Cup win over Australia. Geoff Cumming explores what shaped the modest star.

In sport as in less important things, the biggest challenge for a talented youngster can be to live up to expectations. Sport - and cricket in particular - is littered with examples of newcomers who burst on to the scene only to crash and burn.

Kane Williamson's career trajectory simply refuses to follow that script. The "next big thing" label was first draped around his shoulders when he was a primary school prodigy in the Bay of Plenty. He made his first-class debut while still at college and, aged 20, scored a century in India on his test debut - not long after becoming our youngest centurion, in a one-day international. There have been stumbles since but, each time, the 24-year-old has gone away, addressed technical deficiencies, and come back a better player. Few cricketers at the top level can do that.

Last weekend, as the Black Caps did their best to turn victory into defeat against the all-powerful Australians, it was Williamson who stood firm in the white-knuckle tension, smiting the ball into the stand and triggering the biggest roar Eden Park has ever heard.

It wasn't his runs: 45 not out. It was the ease with which he scored them, as mere mortals came and went against the ruthless Aussie quicks.


Williamson is currently ranked sixth in the world as both a test and ODI batsman - but he really sits among a handful of master batsmen: South Africans A.B. de Villiers and Hashim Amla, Australia's Michael Clarke, India's Virat Kohli and Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara.

Since October 2013, after a depressing away series loss in England, he's averaged 75 in 25 test innings (including three not-outs), scoring four centuries and a double-ton in his last 10 tests. In 23 ODIs up to the start of the World Cup, he averaged 66 at a strike rate of 88.5, with three hundreds and 10 half-centuries.

He's a run machine - the batting rock on which New Zealand cricket's revival is founded. Yet his ascent has fallen almost below the radar of casual fans dazzled by the batting pyrotechnics of skipper Brendan McCullum, Ross Taylor and Corey Anderson and the bowling of Tim Southee and Trent Boult.

His pre-cup form drew this assessment from our last batting superstar Martin Crowe: "We're seeing the dawn of probably our greatest batsman."

Williamson was off limits this week and if he had been talking he would most likely have shrugged and responded: "That's nice, but I've got a bit to work on yet." He remains as humble as the 12-year-old who, after rescuing his team with an unbeaten century off the penultimate ball of the match, waited on the boundary to applaud his partner - who was not out on three.

Those who've followed his development say he's never let his talent go to his head, which is part of what makes him so good. "Nothing fazes him - he just plays every ball as it comes," says Dave Johnston, former Bay of Plenty Cricket chief executive who mentored the young Williamson.

Kane Williamson with Black Caps' colleague Trent Boult before the Under-19 World Cup in 2008. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Kane Williamson with Black Caps' colleague Trent Boult before the Under-19 World Cup in 2008. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

"He's worked out that he doesn't want to be defined as a cricketer by success or failure. His philosophy is you're going to score runs some days and get out [cheaply] on others. He's pretty mature for someone who's only 24.

"He always had a lot of natural talent and co-ordination but the biggest thing was he had a great work ethic." He still does. After hitting 112 in 88 balls against Pakistan in a warm-up match in January, Williamson insisted on a net session because he hadn't spent enough time in the middle.


Josh Syms, who coached him in his early years at Tauranga Boys College, says along with the talent, Williamson was driven. "He had a thirst to be phenomenal - but not at anyone else's expense. It was more 'this is what I love, this is what I'm good at, so I'm going to do that'.

"He's calculating - he boils things down to nuts and bolts. He'll take the emotion out of it and ask: 'if I do this, what will be the outcome?'

"He identifies the problem and how he's going to solve it - he works out what's going to happen."

His undemonstrative nature - there's no leap in the air when he reaches another milestone; even his fist pump at Eden Park was limp-wristed - sparked pre-cup chatter about a lack of passion, or commitment.

"He's as passionate as the rest of them," says Johnston, " he just shows it in a considered manner. He's pretty down to earth - people will be chipping him and he just gets on with it."

Syms, Johnston and others put his humility and level-headedness down to his upbringing. He and twin brother Logan were born into a sports-mad household in Otumoetai. Father Brett was a talented cricketer and hockey player; mother Sandra a top basketballer. Sisters Kylie, Anna and Sophie played volleyball and basketball (Anna was a national under-19 volleyball rep). They kept him grounded. Kane was good at any sport he tried. He played Roller Mills rugby - a first five-eighth in the Grant Fox mould, directing play with his boot and kicking sideline conversions.

He starred at basketball as a guard - named MVP at the mid-northern junior secondary schools tournament in 2005. His mother told the Bay of Plenty Times in 2007 that Kane was still in nappies when he picked up a mini basketball and started slotting it through a hoop.

"Even from 18-months you could just see it - he would just stand there and pop the ball in and have the right action and everything. It was like he'd done it before."

Once Kane was big enough to handle a cricket bat, he would badger his father into endless throwdowns in the nets at Pillans Point School, a few doors from the family home.

"Ever since I was young, I was out there playing with bats and balls and there's always development to be done," the preternaturally mature 16-year-old said.

Syms says Williamson's parents were fantastic supporters but never pushed him.

"They gave him every opportunity but it was never for their benefit. He had a wonderful family and good people around him in the Bay of Plenty development set-up."

Academically gifted

, Williamson was head prefect in his final year, but it was obvious where he was headed. He made the national under-19 team at 16 and the following year led the team to the under-19 World Cup in Malaysia. (Among his charges: Tim Southee, Corey Anderson and Trent Boult).

Williamson's century on test debut only heightened expectations at a time the national side was struggling.

Early 2013 brought the ignominy of 46 all-out in a test against South Africa, then 68 all-out at Lords. His runs since have provided the sinew (to McCullum's muscle and daring) for restored credibility: two centuries contributing to an away series win in the West Indies last winter; a record partnership with McCullum to square the pre-Christmas series against Pakistan. Back home, his double century in the second test against Sri Lanka and another record stand (with B.J. Watling) turned defeat into eventual victory and a series win in January.

He does look beyond the nets. During the third test against Pakistan, he was affected more than most when Australian batsman Phillip Hughes died after being felled by a bouncer.

The pair had knocked around together on the English county circuit. Reluctant to continue, Williamson slammed 192. "Cricket was secondary," he commented. In the subsequent five-match one-day series, he donated all his match fees to the victims of the Peshawar school massacre.

Not long ago, he was thought of mainly as a test match player, lacking the power and scoring rate for the shorter formats. "He decided he could get his strike rate up and turn himself into a [short form] player by pushing the ball into gaps," Syms says.

Now there's an Indian Premier League (T20) date to follow the World Cup. The six-week contract will earn him at least $100,000 - but he told a mate the real bonus will be facing up to teammate Dale Steyn (the South African express bowler) in the nets.

His is not the power game of McCullum or Anderson; nor does he try to wrest control through aggression.

He relies on crisp timing and precision placement - whether threading the ball through the narrowest of gaps or lofting over the infield. He's not as elegant as a Crowe or a Taylor - but he's the batsman you'd send in in a crisis.

Another past coach, Sam Gibson, had lunch with Williamson before the Australia game. "You just forget who you're with - he just totally removes himself from the hype."

Gibson was at Eden Park last weekend and couldn't believe New Zealand's late collapse. "I don't get too excited generally but I was yelling and screaming. I was trying to put myself in his shoes and think what he would do. The Australians were trying to get Trent Boult on strike.

"As grounded as he is, he just had the supreme confidence to hit the ball for six. What I love is the reactions he has - watching him just give a little fist pump and wander off. He texted me after the game: 'Yeah, good to get a scrappy win'."