Kane Williamson was born into a sporting family. His father played under-17 cricket for Northern Districts in New Zealand, his mother was into basketball, while his sisters featured in age-group volleyball. But Williamson fell in love with the willow quite early in life and over the years he has emerged as one of the finest ambassadors of cricket.
When Williamson broke into the New Zealand senior team a decade ago, even he hadn’t dreamed of making it so far. But it has been a fairy tale for the gentleman from Tauranga. He has been one of the finest batsmen of the country — amassing 14,314 runs across formats in international cricket — and has also captained the Black Caps with elan.
At the 2019 One-Day International World Cup, Williamson was the player of the tournament and also guided New Zealand to the final. Even though it ended with heartbreak for his team in the summit clash as England clinched the title by sheer virtue of luck, Williamson won hearts for his conduct in the aftermath of having lost the World Cup on a tie-breaker — a rule that drew flak.
Over the years, the 30-year-old has proven his mettle in the shortest format of the game and has been a regular in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Stepping in as captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in 2018 after the suspension of regular captain David Warner because of the ball-tampering saga, Williamson guided the team to the final of the IPL. SRH reinstated Warner the next season, but Williamson has continued to support him with valuable inputs on the field.
This time too, Williamson is “always ready” to share ideas with captain Warner and the support staff in a bid to ensure that the team wins yet another title. In a chat with Sportstar from Dubai, where SRH is stationed for the 2020 IPL season, the ever-smiling Williamson spoke on a range of subjects...
How has been the experience of returning to cricket after six months?
It has been a really long time for everybody. So the enthusiasm to get out there and play was obviously very high. It was really nice to be a part of it (the IPL) and also nice in terms of performance as well.
New Zealand was one of the first countries to declare itself Covid-19 free a few months ago. Sporting activities had also started. How difficult was it to restart sports and what has been the reaction of the players and the fans? How is the situation now?
It’s hard to know because I have been here for about a month. But I can think back to the time when we were in a lockdown and then we were able to come out of it. There was some sport on television and that was really great and had a large following. As a sportsperson, you do not always remember but that does have an impact on other people’s lives. They do enjoy watching and following their teams. So, hopefully, with a busy cricket schedule in our home this summer that captures support, I am keen to get out there and watch and come along to the ground, if we are able to stay safe.
You have a few members of the England squad in Sunrisers Hyderabad who you faced in the World Cup final last year. How is it sharing dressing rooms with the likes of Jonny Bairstow and head coach Trevor Bayliss?
It’s good. I have played quite a lot with Jonny. We have played a bit together at Yorkshire and obviously here last year. We have also played against each other a lot, so it’s great to be playing alongside him, and obviously with the new support staff that we have, Bayliss comes in. He has been really enjoyable as well, so it has been a great group of players and support staff. It was nice to be on board in the last game (against Delhi Capitals) and hopefully we can keep building on the nice performances collectively. It’s a long tournament and every team is strong, so it’s exciting. Hopefully fans are enjoying, watching it.
How much of a challenge is it to stay inside a bubble and play in three venues where the conditions are completely different from each other? Also, how challenging is this year’s IPL as compared to the previous ones?
Every year is slightly different even in the IPL. In terms of the conditions, the teams change. And this year is considerably different because of the circumstances. But you need to adapt. Adapting to the conditions and to the different teams is always a challenge, but also there is so much time for the players when they ain’t playing, trying to utilise that to make sure that they stay fresh and inside the bubble. We are well looked after and I am sure the players are enjoying the team experience because it’s something different. Being aware of that and coming up with different things keep the players fresh.
You have been part of the SRH setup for quite some time. What do you think makes this IPL team special?
There are a lot of things that go into that. From the start, it’s not an idea of being special, but it’s an idea of wanting to see a team grow and progress. That’s important in a way, and we have seen in the last couple of games. I hope that continues. It’s a new challenge every year for most teams when there is a lot of change. That always happens and the players are aware of their roles. It is an enjoyable challenge. Being a captain for a couple of years, being more involved and having an outside input is enjoyable. The team is gelling well and the players are getting to know each other better. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to the next challenge.
Going into the 2020 IPL tournament, what are your expectations from SRH and what are the areas that the team needs to work on?
Adapting is really important, but at the same time we need to be clear about the kind of cricket we want to play as a group. Every team is a bit different and that is an important part — trying to capture some momentum and taking it further that puts you in a position down the track where there is opportunity to play in the finals. That will be the focus — the leadership of the team and the players will be playing their roles as much as they can.
This time David Warner is the captain. How do you help him in the middle and also in times of crisis?
I will obviously support David in any way that he would like on the field. He is doing a very good job and he has captained the team for a number of years. I stood in in his absence and obviously he has got the same challenges as all the other captains because you come into the side with a lot of changes and you are trying to see that you operate as smoothly as possible and have that clarity. It’s always an opportunity to play in the IPL and you want to give as much as you can — with the bat or the ball and also with some ideas that might be helpful. I have played with David for a number of years and we get on well. So we are always having a few chats and trying to achieve the same thing.
The IPL teams are an assembly of international stars, but only four overseas players can play for a side in a game. How difficult is it to keep the players — who are regular starters in any other setup — motivated for the duration of the tournament?
I suppose I am an example of that as well. You come out here and there is always a balance to try out. Obviously there are the ideas of the leadership and style of play, and you play 11 players within that. There are only a few overseas players that can play and it’s truly part and parcel of the IPL dynamic and something to understand. The player has played consistently with New Zealand for a period of time and with other teams. But also some good reminders as well that you appreciate the opportunities to play and you enjoy being out there and when you aren’t playing you wanna carry the same attitude and try to help the players and some of the other guys that aren’t playing and trying to learn and improve as much as we can. And carry a few drinks, and help the other guys out when it’s pretty humid and they lose a bit of fluid. So there’s always a role to play on the field or even when you are not on the field.
You have played in multiple Twenty20 (T20) franchise leagues. Where does the IPL stand in this ecosystem? How important is this year’s tournament given the fact that we are in middle of a pandemic?
The IPL is clearly the pinnacle of all the domestic tournaments around the world. It’s hard to call it a domestic tournament. It’s an amazing event and the opportunity to be involved in it is something that’s quite special, although the circumstances this year are quite different. But certainly with the love and passion for the game that there is in India and having the opportunity to be over there in an Indian team environment and play in front of large crowds is truly special and it is very much like an international cricketing atmosphere. It’s a great competition and there are a number of reasons that set it apart. I think the culture and passion for the game that there are in India are probably where it starts. And the idea that the T20 World Cup is coming up is in the back of the mind. But trying to do what you can for the teams that you play for, I think those are the most important things. When the focus changes, when you join up with your other sides, then that’s when it is the time to start looking towards what is coming up — the World Cup, the series with New Zealand, et cetera.
The World T20 will be happening next year. This year most players didn’t have too much of an opportunity to play. Keeping that in mind, how challenging will it be for the players to come back in form, because not everyone has played in the IPL or the other franchise leagues?
Everybody is facing challenges in this period of time, and now for the cricketing circle it’s a jolt and obviously you are dealing with other parts like quarantine and things that you are not used to.
Everybody is in that position and we are starting to see other competitions start — we saw the CPL (Caribbean Premier League) happen, and other teams playing series, and boards are making every effort trying to put as much cricket in the calendar as they can. But it is a challenge and I think it sort of reminds you of the time when you started out in professional cricket and you had quite large gaps with the change of season. So, try to stay relaxed with that and take some opportunities when you aren’t involved with tournament cricket or in your home summer where you can maybe work on some other areas and conditioning and these sorts of things which might add benefits when the time comes.
I think trying to stay positive, and now that there will be times when there isn’t a lot on, such is the climate that we are all in, it is perhaps to be expected.
Every time there are discussions on batting, people talk about three players — Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. How do you enjoy this healthy rivalry on the field?
I know those guys are amazing players and I have always enjoyed watching them play and leading the way and pushing the boundaries of the game. Both of them have done it for a long time as well. My focus is always with the team that I’m in and trying to play the role I have been given as best as I can. I really enjoy watching and following those guys, and they are doing great things for the game.
Players from New Zealand and South Africa are often good at multiple sports and they also say their cricket benefits from their acumen in other sports. Is there any other sport that you enjoy playing?
Everybody has other hobbies — whether that’s other sports and what not. At a time when cricket was not really an option and everybody was forced to look at doing other things, I really enjoyed my basketball and some surfing. When you could get outside and do that, it’s always enjoyable. When you get a forced period of time when that’s not possible, then you try and get involved in a few other things which can be enjoyable. But there is no doubt that there’s plenty of cricket coming up where those things have to be put back on hold.
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