Behind every cricket statistic there is a story and Kane Williamson's surge to second in the test batting ratings behind Virat Kohli came after his double heroics drove New Zealand to an historic away series win against Pakistan.

His remarkable 89 then 139 in Abu Dhabi gave his side room to absorb some stumbles then surge again as the bowlers broke down the hosts' resistance.

The other striking thing about those epic innings and Williamson's test batting history is their contained culture.

Stuck as he is in the rankings between Kohli and disgraced former Aussie leader Steve Smith, Williamson's work at the crease eases in comparison to the others; Kohli is full of bristling twirl and aggressive flamboyance while Smith was all exasperating fidget, shuffle and unorthodox technique.

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Everything about Williamson at the crease is understated but he is the best batsman to wear New Zealand colours since the country began test cricket 88 years ago.

He may not drive the excitement levels in the way that Brendon McCullum, Lance Cairns or "Jock" Edwards did or fire the purists as Martin Crowe could with his classical range of strokes but Williamson is up another notch.

The purity of his strokes, the relentless concentration in multiple crises and numbers at the crease deliver a balm for his teammates and public appreciation for his dedicated excellence.

Those who watched Stewie Dempster point out his remarkable test average. But his career stopped at 10 tests while Martin Donnelly walked to the crease in only seven internationals. Williamson has played 68 tests and with 19 centuries averages a tick over 51 while Crowe averaged 45 from 77 tests, Ross Taylor averages 46 from 88 tests, John F Reid 46 from 19 tests and Glenn Turner 44 from 41 tests.

In all conditions against pace, seam or spin, Williamson has built his game since his century on debut against India eight years ago.

When he walks to the crease this weekend against Sri Lanka at the Basin Reserve, inspects the pitch and takes guard, cricket followers ramp up their concentration on how the 28-year-old will deal with his latest challenge.

Three years ago against the same opposition and at the same venue, Williamson compiled his highest test score of 242 not out as he and keeper BJ Watling set a world record sixth wicket partnership to give New Zealand a run at another victory.

Sri Lanka had their champion batsman Kumar Sangakkara in that side and while his retired elegance will be missed this time they have captain Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne who are ranked inside the top dozen test batsman.

After a solid batch of work in the UAE, including his last innings undefeated ton, Henry Nicholls has pushed up to ninth in that list which seems a bit out of kilter with Hashim Amla, Francois "Faf" du Plessis and Jonny Bairstow ranked below him. But there is no ambiguity about Williamson's rise to the top echelon or his credentials as our best batsman.