Kane Williamson

Kane Williamson is more than able to compete with the best

For all those people wondering why the Indian team’s principal sponsor is a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer while India’s biggest dairy producer is proudly on the front of the Black Caps’ jerseys, Kane Williamson provided the answer on a rain-drenched Friday in Birmingham.

After scoring a century that was typically smooth, not one shot played in anger despite bringing up three figures off only 96 balls against an Australian attack that was rated among the best at the Champions Trophy, Williamson refused to curse his team’s luck after rain cut short Australia’s innings with them 25 runs behind on the Duckworth-Lewis Stern curve.

You could say that butter would not melt in Williamson’s mouth, although Amul, who call themselves the Taste of India, would prefer that their flagship product went down as effortlessly as a Williamson cover drive.

All year, cricket fans have enjoyed a healthy debate on who the batsman in the world was. The Australians believe Steve Smith is the man and it is difficult to argue with the weight of runs he has scored all around the world. The English rarely look beyond their own stable, and Joe Root is worthy even of the hyporbole Fleet Street heaps on him. Ab de Villiers, who has been described as a 360-degree batsman, has his own legion of fans. But none of these compare to Virat Kohli, currently darling of the largest fan base in the world, someone who is loved even though he is the first Indian to threaten to challenge the records of India’s cricket God, Sachin Tendulkar.

Through all of this, Williamson has flown gently under the radar, getting 61 Tests under the belt before his 27th birthday, scoring 17 hundreds and ticking over at an average of a little more than 51. In 112 One-Day Internationals, Williamson averages 46.46, his runs coming at a healthy strike rate of nearly 84. And, guess what, this classical striker of the ball is no slouch in Twenty20 cricket either, with success under the belt for both New Zealand and in the Indian Premier League.

Williamson endured yet another day of being left in the shade, albeit without the slightest hint of complaint, when New Zealand made 291 and then had Australia in serious strife at 53 for 3 in pursuit of 235 from 33 overs. Williamson’s century may have gone largely unheralded if the game went the distance and Australia came out on top, and that would’ve been understandable. But, to be robbed his rightful appreciation, by the rain, did feel like everything was conspiring to ensure Williamson did not get his due.

Smith, who was unbeaten on eight when Australia’s innings ended, was properly appreciative of Williamson’s effort. “I think Kane is a magnificent player in all formats of the game. He’s a very smart cricketer, he understands his game incredibly well,” said Smith. “And he’s just — he’s a very good player. And it looks like he’s just getting better as well. So, yeah, great player.”

When Williamson fronted the media soon after and was asked who he thought some of the best batsmen in the world were, he half had an idea where the conversation was going, even as the media corps let out a muffled laugh. “There’s quite a few in the opposition dressing room. Look, on any day anyone can score runs. And then people maybe think they’re good players. So it’s very hard to say,” said Williamson. “Look, AB de Villiers, I think, is an exceptional player in all formats. Virat. Obviously Steve Smith. Joe Root — I don’t know, there’s several other players.”

And what about himself?

“I don’t know, some days it goes okay. Some days …” he trailed off. With most of the population of the Land of the Long White Cloud too enamoured with rugby to recognise a cricket legend in the making in their midst, and the man himself being so self effacing, it’s no wonder that others pick up all the plaudits while Williamson concerns himself with merely racking up the runs.

(This column first appeared on the Sportskeeda website on June 4, 2017)