Kane Williamson: India is the best team in the world

“It’s great that over the space of two years albeit with a lot of disruption, there is going to be the WTC final and for us as a side to be one of those teams that are playing in it. It’s really exciting," says Williamson.

“Any chance to compete in the IPL is really exciting, you always see a few new faces after each auction along with a large number of players that have been part of the franchise for a long period of time,” says Kane Williamson.   -  Reuters

From featuring in the Indian Premier League for Sunrisers Hyderabad to playing against India in the final of the ICC World Test Championship — the next few months are going to be busy for Kane Williamson.

But before the red ball contest against Virat Kohli’s side, the New Zealand captain wants to have a good IPL. And at neutral venues, he feels adapting to the conditions quickly will be the key.

In a chat with Sportstar, Williamson speaks about Sunrisers Hyderabad, the future of Test cricket, the spirit of the game and more…

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What are your thoughts on Sunrisers Hyderabad in this IPL?

It is a really exciting team. Any chance to compete in the IPL is really exciting, you always see a few new faces after each auction along with a large number of players that have been part of the franchise for a long period of time. That’s a nice balance. We saw a few differences in the last IPL and there are a few more this time.

Obviously there is no home advantage and we are all playing in neutral venues. There are a few things as a side to get our hands around and try and adapt as quickly as possible whether that’s the style of cricket or the makeup of the team.

Last time the IPL was played in the United Arab Emirates and this time, even though the matches will be played in India, none of the teams will have any home advantage. How challenging is that?

I suppose playing a number of games at the same venue actually can help you get a little bit ready on things. But you will want to do that as quickly as possible because, for us, we play two thirds of our games in two venues (Sunrisers will be playing five matches in Chennai, four in New Delhi, three in Kolkata and a couple of games in Bengaluru). Therein lies a good opportunity, but also there are some obvious challenges as well. The team is training well.

“We have some youngsters in our team, who got game time last season and are extremely talented. Every year, you come to the IPL and you see incredible talents in your squad and other teams,” says Williamson.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

Last season, the Sunrisers appeared slightly jittery before eventually reaching the playoffs. And this time, the team has brought back Tom Moody as the director of cricket. What are your expectations?

There are a number of players that I am sure will be considered and be backed with full confidence depending on the balance. It was great to play a majority of the last season. As a side we became a little bit clearer as we got through the competition on the style of cricket we wanted to play and what we thought would give us the best chance of success. We managed to go reasonably far in the tournament and this year is different again. I am not sure at this point in time in terms of the balance and I guess it’s just yet to be seen and we need to get a feel of the conditions and what the coaches and directors feel would be best suited. But as a player within the side, whatever your role is, it is important to try to get your head around it and make sure that you are just offering the team as much as you can.

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Taking lessons from last year, what are the areas that the team would like to particularly focus on this season?

It is very similar. If you look at last year, although we managed to go a reasonable distance in the competition, making it to the final four and winning our first semfinals (Eliminator) and losing the second one (Qualifier 2), we saw throughout the campaign that there were some really small margins in terms of a lot of results, in the last few balls of the game. And if you step back aside as a side, you can look at making some adjustments and not get too carried away with changing things too drastically. As a side we knew that we did not quite (play to) our strength until midway, so we need to try and do that as quickly as possible. In T20 cricket, if you get some momentum, then that goes a long way.

The next few months are going to be challenging for you. Soon after the IPL, you will take on India in the final of the ICC World Test Championship. What are your thoughts on the summit clash?

We are looking forward to it. It is really exciting… It’s great that over the space of two years albeit with a lot of disruption, there is going to be the WTC final and for us as a side to be one of those teams that are playing in it. It’s really exciting. It will be another neutral venue and playing India, who are at the top of their game and the best team in the world at the moment, is a great challenge for us. But at the moment the focus is on IPL and we will quickly make those adjustments in due time. We have a couple of Test matches after this against England and then the World Test Championship final. So, some great cricket is coming up.

Tom Moody is back with Sunrisers Hyderabad as the Director of Cricket which is good news for the franchise.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

New Zealand has failed to win an ICC world event despite reaching the World Cup finals in 2015 and 2019. Now that there is another chance to clinch a world title, how confident are you of breaking the title jinx?

They are different formats, different competitions, but we are really excited to be involved in it. It is a great opportunity for us. It’s a little bit different because there is not so much tournament play. It spanned over two seasons or two years and the points were accumulated. And I think we saw at the introduction of the Test championship that as it got close to the opportunity to be in a final, the team started playing perhaps more aggressively and trying to give themselves a chance.

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We certainly did that as a side in home summer, and for us it worked out well. It has given us that opportunity and there were a number of other teams around the world as well. I think it has got another dynamic to Test cricket, so we are really excited to be involved in it. We are just looking forward to that opportunity.

Not long ago, there was a perception that Indian teams did not fare well overseas. But over the years, that has changed. The side achieved tremendous success recently, beating Australia in its den and followed it up with a home series win against England. How challenging will it be to play them in Southampton?

It will be a great challenge. We know how good they are in all conditions, there is exposure these days with often playing away from home. And there’s so much experience in this side along with talented youth. So, they have a fantastic balance and they are at the top of their game. They have played extremely well with a lot of injuries in the Australia series, which was an incredible achievement for them. So, I know that they are full of confidence. For us, we have been playing some reasonable cricket too so we want to focus on what’s important to our game, but it is gonna be a great challenge.

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The WTC final will be played in Southampton. But personally, would it have been more motivating to play at Lord’s — a venue where New Zealand lost the 2019 World Cup final — and clinch the World Test Championship title?

(Laughs) Everybody wants to play at Lord’s because it is Lord’s. That has not crossed my mind. It’s a different team and a different format. That’s where our focus is. Wherever the final will be played is not in our control, so we need to get our head around that. It is a different venue and different surface, so it is important we adapt to those changes. But yes, Lord’s is a special place to play cricket. The Test team is very excited with this opportunity to play the final.

COVID-19 interrupted the World Test Championship. But what are the lessons that the teams have learned from it so far and what are the things that the ICC should introduce to make it more interesting in the future?

I know we have just done one cycle but we saw with the introduction of the Test Championship, it did bring a lot of excitement to the backers of Test cricket all around the world and teams are gearing up for a spot in the final, which is great. But there is no doubt that they are always thinking about how to improve the game and make it more popular. It’s always about trying to improve and make it better. I think they will be thinking about how they can do it for all formats. But that’s for another stage, another day!

“I think the ICC world Test Championship has got another dynamic to Test cricket, so we are really excited to be involved in it,” says the Kiwi skipper.   -  Getty Images

 

Many feel that this IPL will help the overseas cricketers get a hang of things ahead of the T20 World Cup scheduled to be held in India later this year. What are your thoughts?

There is more and more cricket played in India and it is an amazing place to play cricket. Whenever you get an opportunity to play the IPL — which is one of the biggest competitions in the world — is exciting. But I suppose the T20 World Cup is different — in terms of opposition and when it is run by the ICC, there are some differences. Any opportunity to play here with some strong oppositions will definitely help. There are some positives moving ahead, but it is probably hard to marry that up with the T20 World Cup. It’s still some time off.

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The pandemic has seen the ICC doing away with the neutral umpires. Over the last few months, there has been a debate on the umpire’s call and the soft signal. How do you see that?

Nothing is perfect, and it’s probably not a bad place to start. You need to look at the steps that are being taken to ensure that cricket is played at a time when it is extremely difficult. You have to appreciate that we are actually fortunate to be playing. They have taken steps to make sure that things are done as smoothly as possible, however, there are areas to improve on.

Hopefully, when life slowly gets back to normal, it will be great to see umpires travelling. Some of these decisions — the on-field things — are always being reviewed and we can rest assured that decision making has always improved and I have no doubt that the umpires are always thinking about how they can do that better. We are probably seeing across the board that decision making is good, but like players, you are always wanting to improve.

You have been an ambassador of the spirit of the game. But over the last few weeks, the spirit of the game was in question with the Quinton de Kock-Fakhar Zaman episode coming into the limelight. Your thoughts…

I have not seen that match. But everybody as individuals can make their own decisions and have their own stands, I suppose, within the rules of the game. Whether other people have an opinion or not, I suppose there are opportunities when you see it and perhaps, it’s not against the spirit of the game and where rules are changed and adapted. We have seen that on a number of occasions. But myself and the New Zealand team in particular, we do give some importance to our behaviour and the style of cricket we want to play. We do not look to unfairly run-out people or do such things.

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Lot of people have other opinions and I am sure that there is a lot of balance to those arguments.

It is an interesting debate and I think we are all ambassadors of the game and you do want to play the game in the right spirit at the end of the day. But there are opportunities to look at rules to make sure that it does not encourage teams to do that and 99 per cent of the time, you play in a fashion which is nice.

Williamson with his Indian counterpart Virat Kohli. “The Indians have a fantastic balance and they are at the top of their game. They have played extremely well with a lot of injuries in the Australia series, which was an incredible achievement for them. So, I know that they are full of confidence. For us, we have been playing some reasonable cricket too, so we want to focus on what’s important to our game, but it is gonna be a great challenge,” says Williamson on facing India in the World Test Championship final later this year.   -  AP

 

The IPL is also an opportunity for youngsters to show their talents. What are your thoughts on the young guns? Is there anyone in particular who you are looking forward to watching this year?

We have some youngsters in our team, who got game time last season and are extremely talented. Priyam Garg, Abhishek Sharma and there are a number of guys who are promising. It is hard to point anyone in particular. Every team has got four or five players that are extremely talented. Every year, you come to the IPL and you see incredible talents in your squad and other teams. It is very special to see the depth cricket has and the platform they have with the IPL to give some young players the exposure and an opportunity to develop their game heading towards international cricket. It’s an incredible thing for Indian cricket.

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You became a father last December. How challenging is it to spend so much time inside a bubble — far away from family?

In terms of bubble life everybody has a different experience but it definitely adds new dynamics leaving home, when you have just had a baby. Your life does change very quickly as soon as the little one arrives and it is an incredibly special time.

For me, I have had some time at home before coming here. I feel very fortunate to have had that and fortunate to see her grow and change. Things happen so quickly. It is a natural bond, connection like no other. It is an amazing experience to have. It’s always great Zooming (zoom calls) or Skyping (calls via Skype) home and catching up with my girls.