Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Williamson will be one of New Zealand's greats

Sometimes players have something indefinable about them. You could call it an aura, but that's too grand a term for a thoroughly unglamorous batsman, but one who could end his career amongst his country's greats.

Some players get selected because of their stats, because they've got mountains of runs in domestic cricket; some because of their obvious talent, despite no great returns; and some because of a hunch. Graeme Hick was one of the former, making 50 First-class centuries before his Test début. Sachin Tendulkar made his Test début at 16, after precious few First-class games, because he had such obvious talent. Perhaps the most most well known examples of the hunch approach were Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan, both of whom were talented without ever looking exceptional, but were plucked out of county cricket into the England team, with tremendous success.

Kane Williamson is a mix of all three approaches. He's been around the New Zealand team for a couple of years now, so it's easy to forget that he's only 22. He made his Test debut at the age of 20, picked partly because of 1428 runs at 46.06 in his First-class career, and partly based on his talent and a hunch that he had the temperament for Test cricket.

He certainly started well, with 131 on début  in India, and 69 in his second Test. After that start, he averaged  68 from three innings, and since then he has 959 runs at 29.06 from 18 Tests. Yet, despite his début he hasn't missed a Test. That's probably because, in a rare piece of good thinking in New Zealand cricket, they've backed their hunch, recognised that they're dealing with a young player who will have ups and downs.

He's had a couple of significant ups recently. His century in Columbo was a crucial part of a rare New Zealand away Test win, and today he played an early contender for best ODI innings of the year, with a commanding and controlled 145* (136). Despite generally being thought of as mainly a Test player, his knock today took his average to 37.38 in ODIs, significantly higher than his Test average.

It's his composure and ability to hit the gaps that made Williamson's innings so good. He came in early after the loss of a wicket and accelerated through his innings, always knowing what sort of total to aim for, and finished with a six. In his knock, he scored 15 fours, all around the park, showing the intellgence to get low and pull du Plessis' skiddy leg breaks for a couple of fours, and whenever the bowlers erred too full he drove with timing and placement.

The Williamson hunch may take a while longer to pay off consistently in all formats, but when it does he's got a chance of taking almost all the New Zealand batting records. At 22, he may have fifteen more years at the top, and the chance to make himself one of New Zealand's all time greats. Stephen Felming's 7172 runs and Martin Crowe's 17 Test hundreds may be safe for now, but one man has a great shot of taking them. Just wait.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Five quick ways for New Zealand to improve

New Zealand are having a dismal time of it at the moment. All out for 45, and conceding a first innings lead of 302 is a Bangladesh-esque performance, and New Zealand are sinking that way. However, all is not lost, I've got five quick fixes to make them at least half competitive in Test cricket. Surely, if I can think of these, they must be able to?

Get rid of Mike Hesson
I don't know all of the ins and outs of the Taylor/Hesson spat, but it's clear that Hesson's position is untenable. When a similar thing happened in England with Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen, both were stripped of their jobs. Taylor's lost his (unfairly) so Hesson should be gone.

Get Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder back into the team
A team with two of its best batsmen missing is never going to compete against the world number one away from home. Taylor's return should be eased by the sacking of Hesson, and a risk may need to be taken on Ryder, because of his talent, a sort of talent that doesn't come around that often for New Zealand.

Sort the batting order (and stick with it)
This isn't an original thought, I'm sticking entirely with the order that The Heavy Roller came up with: Guptill, McCullum, Williamson, Taylor, Ryder, Brownlie, Watling. If you look at that line-up, it may not be the best in the world, but there's a lot of talent, and if you give them all a run, surely they've got to make some runs eventually (wishful thinking I know).

Drop Chris Martin
I like the 'Phantom', he makes me look like a good batsman and is one of the least threatening looking bowlers to have a decent Test career. However, in the first Test against South Africa he's bowled military medium, his leap to the crease belying a speed of under 130kph most of the time. New Zealand have a decent number of young seamers in Southee, Boult, Bracewell, Milne, Wagner and, McClenaghan; at 38 Martin has out-served his purpose. Just let me see him bat once again, that's all I ask.

Pick a spinner (not Jeetan Patel) and stick with him
It's got to the point where a real replacement for Daniel Vettori is needed, and one who is young enough to spend many years in the team. Todd Astle seems like the best fit for that role, a leggie who could bat at seven or eight, and has talent with the ball, as well as age on his side, being six years younger than both Patel and Bruce Martin. Those are the only three real options, with Astle's batting and age giving him the edge.

Do all that and they'll start to look competitive at home, and not complete pushovers away. Not that I expect them to do anything other than bumble along like nothing's wrong.