A fine batsman, a genuine leader and one of the greatest ambassadors of the game — that’s Kane Williamson for you. The New Zealand captain, who is currently leading Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League, does not brag too much about his achievements and enjoys keeping a low-profile, off the field.
However, on field, he makes it a point to bring out the best in his team-mates and produce the best results for his team. That’s how it has always been for him — aim for success, but play fair.
In a chat with Sportstar, Williamson talks about the New Zealand team, the T20 World Cup and also outlines the challenges of living in a bio-bubble for months.
Sunrisers Hyderabad did not have a memorable outing in the first leg of the IPL. What are the realistic chances of the team making the playoffs?
After the first-half of the competition, it wasn’t perhaps our best and that hasn’t increased our chances to make the playoffs. But I still believe that there is a small chance. I think the challenge for us really is coming together as a group and putting up much-improved performances. That will give us the best chance to get the right results in games as we know in this competition, all the teams are strong and all the teams can beat each other. It is one of the toughest competitions in the world, it is exciting. But for us, the focus is what is in front of us and what is in our control.
What were the lessons learnt from the first leg? With Jonny Bairstow unavailable for the second leg, how much of an impact will it have on the team?
Jonny is one of the standout players, so yeah, a bit of a loss for us. Having a little bit of time after the first-half — naturally it all came to an abrupt end — the guys had a chance to reflect and connect to what’s important for us as a team to put up a performance that we know is collective. It is a team approach that we need to try and execute. That is the focus. We have seen quite a few close games in the first-half and could not quite come out on the right side. It is the nature of the sport. But here we are in a different country, different conditions, so the challenges will be a bit different. We need to try and make the adjustments as quickly as possible and play with some freedom and get some momentum in the second half of the competition.
“I struggle to see it (bio-bubbles) as a sustainable option for a long period of time. I don’t think it’s a healthy way to do it. Having said that, I am sure most people try and figure out how to balance it. For us, to have the opportunities to be playing cricket, with Covid still around — we are fortunate. But as you do it for a period of time, it is challenging and it can be more, if you’re away from your family.”
The T20 World Cup begins just a few days after the IPL. Keeping the workload of players in mind, have there been any directives from the cricket boards for the players featuring in the IPL?
The Boards are probably much more aware, more so (now) than ever about the workload of the players, particularly with the quarantine, bubble situations that now exist. Hopefully (it won’t last) for too much longer, but it can take its toll on players at different times. You have seen from our board recently, there have been some slightly different looking squads travelling because, perhaps, a 60-day ruling is what they are trying to do to support the players and their welfare (New Zealand Cricket is looking at resting players, possibly after 60 days to avoid bubble fatigue and other concerns).
It is an ongoing challenge and everybody is trying to face that plan as well as they can. But planning is very difficult to do at this day and age with all things going on. We feel fortunate that we are allowed to play cricket and we can travel for that. But I guess striking that balance is also something to be aware of.
What are your thoughts on the New Zealand team for the T20 World Cup? Any particular reason why Ross Taylor has been left out of the squad?
In the last year-and-a-half, the T20 squad has been fairly consistent and Ross has been an amazing player in all formats for us for a long period of time. The team that’s been selected is what we felt provides the best balance, but we certainly know the quality that Ross brings and his leadership as well. Also, the T20 format, as we have seen over the years, has been an opportunity to bring in younger players into the international arena. Some of those guys have already taken the opportunity and showed a lot of promise and played really well. I guess there are a number of factors.
Team-man: “We (New Zealand team) want to focus on playing as a group and how we can improve and evolve. Sometimes, results are out of our control, but we will continue to do our (job) as a group,” says Williamson. – Getty Images
A lot of New Zealand players are featuring in the IPL. Will this experience help ahead of the T20 World Cup, which will also be played in the UAE?
In terms of the IPL and going straight into the World cup, I guess these are two different competitions but at the same time, (both are) in the same country. No doubt, in the back of the mind of the players, they are aware that’s coming up. The focus needs to be on what’s in front of you. I am sure that will be the case for all the guys that are here in the IPL and will be going onto the World Cup.
In today’s times, how challenging does it get for a captain to lead across formats? Do you think that it is important to let go of one format in a bid to prolong one’s career?
I think everybody has different opinions and feelings on that, and at different times. I think with the volume of cricket we have now, you start to see that in areas of your life, you want to free some time up. Obviously, captaincy brings on a slightly different load and that must come into everybody’s consideration. But not only that, if you do it for a period of time, you do think a little bit about the future, the sort of continuity of something that’s perhaps there. I suppose part of leadership is also the next step, where you may no longer be involved and there always comes a time. It requires energy. I think it’s important that you make decisions at the right time where the focus is all about the team and what’s required. Yes, doing the three formats and perhaps with all that goes on, makes it slightly more challenging with quarantine and those things. It is important that you can lean on other leaders in your group. I am fortunate to have that personally with the New Zealand side. We are always thinking about what’s best for the team.
Virat Kohli will be stepping down as India’s T20 captain after the T20 World Cup. What are your thoughts on that?
Firstly, he has done an incredible job of doing (captaining in) all formats. You know, especially in a country like India where the passion for the sport is immense, he has lived that for such a long period of time. I have got no doubt that it will help free up a little bit of space somewhere on his very busy schedule. I think he probably sees that over his tenure as a leader, there’s a lot of other guys in the group that perhaps he has helped bring through into other leadership roles where now there are opportunities to share. It’s part of the modern game and you have to continue to make decisions based on the team. But you also need your own space and the way you see it and he has made that decision.
When you are constantly shifting from one format to another, captaincy often takes a toll on a batsman’s performance. You have been through that phase. What is the way of overcoming it?
The game keeps moving forward so fast that it requires you to continue to develop and improve and adapt. That’s pretty much the focus. The captaincy element is another role that you take on. It comes with its challenges and its moments that you truly appreciate. For me, when you see some growth — that’s certainly one of those occasions. But you know, you are very much just one part of the picture and that there are a number of other leaders. So, obviously, there are more players and management that come into that picture and they all have a role to play. To a certain extent, you share that burden and you look to lean on other guys that have voices of their own. I do think that’s an important part because as we know the schedule is busy and cricket keeps coming thick and fast, which is fortunate. But being aware of trying and achieving that balance is very important.
You have been one who has played across the formats. What is the secret of success? Have you ever thought of doing away with one format?
I really enjoy playing all the formats and that brings its own challenges, which I think is sometimes refreshing. As you continue to play, you want to push yourself and have that balance.
As guys get older, they might have family and a lot of other things going on in their lives. That’s all part of the picture to try and continue to have that balance and look at things with fresh eyes and these are all very important things to consider.
You have a young family and over the last year-and-a-half, players have been part of rigorous bio-bubbles — staying away from families for months. Does that burn out the players, mentally?
I struggle to see it as a sustainable option for a long period of time. I don’t think it’s a healthy way to do it. Having said that, I am sure most people try and figure out how to balance it. For us, to have the opportunities to be playing cricket, with Covid still around — we are fortunate. But as you do it for a period of time, it is challenging and it can be more, if you’re away from your family. I think the players are seeing that it’s important to have that balance and not just end up going from one bubble to the next and getting stuck in the bubble. I think it’s important to spend some time out of it as well.
What are your thoughts on the T20 World Cup? What are India’s chances in the tournament, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking over as the mentor?
Like in any competition, India are always favourites. In this part of the world as well, they have every chance of going a long way. In terms of challenges and preparations, it’s interesting isn’t it, the bubble life, the variations and schedule dictates a little bit. You have to roll with it a little bit and we’ve got a bunch of our squad that are involved in the IPL. But it’s different for everybody and I think it’s important that the focus is there and the enthusiasm is there and I am sure, the team is excited to get together before the World Cup and look forward to the competition. In this particular format, where anybody can beat anybody, it makes things more exciting.
India-New Zealand cricket rivalry has developed over the years. Earlier this year, your team defeated India in the ICC Test Championship. How was the whole experience and now that the second edition of the tournament has begun, what are your expectations?
That definitely wasn’t a one-sided contest. That was in the balance, the whole way. It was a tough chase because both the bowling attacks were on target throughout the match. It was an incredibly tough match that could have gone either way. We could put together a partnership.
The result suggests one thing but the feeling was completely different from the scorecard in the end. It was a fantastic achievement as a side and it was great to see the level of improvement. It is about trying to continue that as a group and move forward in the right direction. There are a number of opportunities on the horizon and the sport is such that on a given day, anything can happen. We want to focus on playing as a group and how we can improve and evolve. Sometimes, results are out of our control, but we will continue to do our (job) as a group.