ONE day last season, I interviewed Kane Williamson and inadvertently dropped the word “star” into the conversation.
I blurted something like: “As Yorkshire’s overseas star, do you feel added pressure to score runs for the club?”
It was a hackneyed word, a tedious enquiry, and yet it brought a revealing insight into Williamson’s character.
“Oh, I’m a star, am I?” replied the New Zealander with polite disapproval, as though he considered himself to be anything but.
This, I can safely state having spent 20 years asking such prosaic questions for a living, is not the typical response you would get from the average sports star – sorry, sports person.
Indeed, most would fail to even register the fact that their interrogator had referred to them as a “star”, much less bristle that the term was somehow unsuitable.
But Williamson – a bona fide “star” as opposed to one of the self-generated variety – is not your average character or your average cricketer.
The compact right-hander, who can block the life out of the ball as well as belt it, depending on the match situation, is uncommonly level-headed for someone who, at the tender age of 24, has already acquired numerous plaudits.
More followed after Williamson’s Test-best 242 not out against Sri Lanka last week, which inspired a remarkable back-from-the-dead win in the second Test at Wellington.
When Williamson was joined by wicketkeeper BJ Watling in New Zealand’s second innings at the Basin Reserve, the total was 159-5 and the home team were just 24 runs ahead – effectively 24-5.
Some seven hours later, the pair had added a world record sixth-wicket stand of 365 when captain Brendon McCullum declared, Watling’s share a Test-best 142 not out.
Armed with an improbable lead of 389, New Zealand dismissed Sri Lanka for 196 to close out a 2-0 series victory that maintained their outstanding recent form.
Central to that form has been Williamson, who impressed at Yorkshire last summer and also in 2013, and who could return again this year depending on his international commitments.
Since October, 2013, Williamson has scored 1,649 Test runs in 25 innings at an average of 74.95 with six centuries – three of which have surpassed 150.
His last 10 one-day international scores have yielded the remarkable returns of 71, 77, 65, 60, 88, 10, 70 not out, 46, 123 and 97.
Small wonder that McCullum was moved to state after Williamson’s tour de force in Wellington that he could become New Zealand’s best batsman of all time.
“It’s hard to put this on his shoulders while the guy is so young, but I firmly believe Kane could go down as New Zealand’s greatest ever batter,” said McCullum.
“He’s a phenomenal talent and such a level-headed guy, who just thinks first and foremost about the team and how he can contribute.
“He’s ticking off some amazing statistics along the way, and he’s doing it in quite a strong leadership position within our group as well.
“That speaks volumes for the guy at the age of 24, that he’s held in that regard within the group.”
There is perhaps a tendency to perceive Williamson purely as a high-class accumulator, someone who would be a good choice to bat for your life now that ‘Sir Geoffrey’ has long since retired, but his record in all three forms of the game is impressive.
In many ways, Williamson is a throwback with his watertight technique and impenetrable defence, which underpins his contributions in Test and first-class action, but he is also a player of his own time, one who can effortlessly adapt to the fast-paced demands of one-day and T20 cricket.
Williamson is also refreshingly understated, a characteristic McCullum believes could be mistaken for languor.
However, the captain made clear after the win in Wellington: “Kane’s passionate, but he’s level with his emotions. At times, he can be mistaken for not being passionate or caring – he just gets in his zone – but you don’t fight that hard unless you care about something.
“He does have blood in his veins, and he’ll be in that dressing room now enjoying being around his team-mates and having a big smile on his face. He’ll be trying to shove off all the accolades to everyone else, but he’s got to sit with these ones.”
McCullum – no stranger to accolades himself – concluded with this touching tribute… “He (Kane) was batting in my backyard the other day against my boy. I said to my boy, ‘In 10 years’ time, you’re going to appreciate how good this experience was’.”
Whether the modest Williamson appreciates that he is a “star” is, of course, a different matter.