Among the Fab Four of modern-day batting, Kane Williamson is the one who seems to bat on cruise control. The New Zealand skipper’s 31st Test hundred at Mount Maunganui against South Africa on Wednesday – his second hundred of the match, made him the joint second-quickest to 31 with Steve Smith (170 innings); only behind Sachin Tendulkar (165 innings). Six of these tons have come in the last six Test matches he has played; one of them being a double and if that isn’t a hot streak, then what is?
While Smith (9634 runs, avg 58.3) comes to terms with a late-career switch to opening the batting, Root (11468 runs, avg 49.64) focuses more on adding new shots in the Bazball regime, Virat Kohli (8848 runs, avg 49.15) catches up with mastering consistently difficult batting pitches at home, Williamson (Runs 8490, Avg 55.12) is doing what Williamson does – crafting good-looking tons.
Great players that they are, they would not acknowledge comparisons but each of them would be having a peek at what the other three are doing.
In the increasingly unequal world of Test cricket – only India, Australia and England are playing a decent number of Test matches, Williamson is cashing in on his opportunities and how. His latest ton comes against a Proteas side – comfortably third string, with the cream of South African cricketers busy playing SA20. Two of his other recent tons came at home against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Two of the other six hundreds, he would probably count as more satisfying – one came against England at Wellington and the other one at spin-friendly Sylhet versus Bangladesh.
Ultimately, though, every run counts. Across a solid body of work fast approaching 100 career Tests, Williamson knows only too well the importance of seizing the moment. For in the unrelenting calendar of international cricket, with three formats and many T20 leagues, staying fit is a constant challenge.
Williamson hasn’t had it easy on that front. He ruptured his ACL during the last IPL, suffered a fractured thumb at the ODI World Cup, then had a hamstring strain recently. In his first competitive match from injury rehab, a hundred in each innings is as good as it gets. As if respectful of his reputation, South Africa also gave him two lives each in the ongoing Test innings, which he fully capitalised on. Once in, on a batting-friendly Mount Manganui pitch, cheered on by the home crowd from the grass banks, Williamson settled in as he brought out his stylish cuts and picture-perfect straight drives.
“It shows the pure resilience of the man, coming out of all those injuries and setbacks as an even better cricketer. You can see it in his character, work ethic, and the way he gives back to the team,” said Rachin Ravindra, who shared a 232-run partnership with Williamson in the first innings. “Many guys who’ve played 15 years of international cricket, they might not have come back like Kane did. He’s unbelievable, just a model personality to have around.”
This high praise for their skipper from the younger Kiwi crop comes as no surprise. Not only is Williamson easily the best batter New Zealand has produced, he has also seamlessly carried New Zealand cricket forward in his own quiet way after Brendon McCullum called it quits.
At another level, scoring big runs in Test cricket is the best energy shot Williamson can have as he grapples with the changing face of T20 cricket which is increasingly dominated by power-hitting. In this, Williamson is not the only one. Each of the Fab Four face the same challenge.
Williamson stands out in being the only one from outside the big three Test nations to truly count among modern day batting pantheons. For the last ten years, Williamson’s annual batting average hasn’t dipped below 45. Looking at his start to 2024, he’s not about to end that streak any time soon.