Kane Williamson has been the mainstay of New Zealand’s batting for a while now. He is in the famous list of ‘fabulous four batsmen in Test cricket’ which includes Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Joe Root. As New Zealand prepare to take on Australia, the home side will have to cope with the touch and class of Kane Williamson and come up with ideas to keep him quiet in the Test series.
Before going into the plans of knocking Williamson over, let’s take a closer look at his technique and what are some of the traits that make him one of the finest technicians in the modern era.
For starters, as a batsman, you have to be in the best possible position in your stance to give yourself a better chance of striking the ball. If you look at his stance, he stands with his feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart, which assists him with more stability. There is slight bend with his knees to get into that boxer’s position, ready to pounce either forward or back. With his hands, he keeps them a bit tighter to his body with bat face open and toe roughly pointing to first slip. Most importantly, his eyes are in a stunning position to spot the ball.
His grip is slightly bottom hand dominant but not as much as Steve Smith. According to the MCC coaching manual, that might restrict the off-side play but both players have shown they can hit through the off-side with ease.
A comparison of the grips of Steve Smith and Kane Williamson
Now, as the bowler runs in to bowl, this is where things get a bit interesting. According to former New Zealand skipper, Brendon McCullum, Williamson can even spot the seam against the fastest bowlers in the world. That itself gives him a head start and reiterates the fact that the best players in the world have higher levels of anticipation, giving them more time to execute the skill. According to cricket analytics company CricViz, Williamson’s average soars up to 50 plus against bowlers who bowl in the excess of 140 km/h.
A study carried out by neuroscientists at the Universities of Oxford and Sussex revealed that the best batsmen follow the ball as it is released and then quickly shift their gaze to the point where they expect it to bounce. The best have the shortest delay between the ball’s release and moving their eyes to the predicted bounce point, which highlights that why do top players have a lot more time than an average batter.
Moving ahead, Williamson’s preliminary movements are inspired by former New Zealand great, Martin Crowe. Crowe’s philosophy was using the ‘opposite foot to the direction one is going’. To go forward, back foot does all the work and to push back, front foot is used. Basically, when you walk, you’re pushing off either foot. So if you put your weight in the right foot, you lift up your left foot (as it is unweighted) and you push off the right foot and take a step forward. The similar concept applies to his trigger movements.
Keep an eye on the 'unweighted left foot' on the right
He has that slight shuffle of the back foot, loading it up just before the point of release. The other thing worth noting is the alignment of his shoulders at ball release. Players like Shane Watson had their front shoulder high at point of release which led him vulnerable to the swinging ball. Williamson’s front shoulder is slightly lower which allows him to lean more and transfer his weight efficiently, allowing him to play the ball late.
Williamson from sideways on angle (at point of release)
Now, when Williamson has to get forward, his back foot loads up and propels him forward. He doesn't commit too early with his feet either, and rarely you'll see him searching for the ball. Some of the things in the image below worth looking are the shoulder rotation and an unweighted bat, which gives a smooth downswing instead of a rushed one, ensuring late contact point.
Williamson leans into a drive
Some of the Pakistan batsmen were found wanting against the moving ball in Australia and when watching that from sideways on angle, they weren’t tracking the ball into contact and losing their shapes consistently. You'll rarely see the New Zealand skipper getting caught on the crease.
Williamson tracking the ball into contact with a nod of the helmet
Now, you’ll ask: 'Well how the hell does he play off the back foot?' The answer is simple. Because he loads up his back foot first, that will unweight the front foot. If he sees the ball short, he will press forward and then push back off the front foot. Australian quicks should better watch out as Williamson is sublime when punching the ball off the back foot through the off-side.
He is equally adept when playing spin and has an excellent ability to pick up length, which is the most important aspect of batting. Williamson can hit the spinners on both sides of the wicket as well. Don’t be surprised when he punches Lyon off the back foot through the off-side but definitely expect some of the commentators to say: “Well, that is a high a risk shot as he played that against the turn.”
Now, coming on to the final point, how do you get him out. The good news for Australia is that there is an area of concern for New Zealand skipper, which is that fourth, fifth stump line. According to CricViz, Williamson’s average in that zone is 22.95. Now, what Australia have to do is to play the patience game and look for the outside edge. Bowlers like Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have that wobble ball in their armory, which tends to do all sorts of tricks after the ball hits the deck. Nevertheless, we are up for a fascinating battle when the Test series starts from December 12.