April 9, 2017

'It's about trying to stay elastic with your thinking'

Kane Williamson talks about his approach to captaincy, his equation with Mike Hesson, and the non-stop nature of the cricket calendar

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"Captaincy is about different experiences"

It has been one year since Kane Williamson took over as New Zealand's captain in all formats. While New Zealand have had a good run at home, barring the recent series against South Africa, they have suffered reverses in India and South Africa. Williamson, however, says it has largely been a "growth year" for the team.

How do you feel things have panned out for Kane Williamson the captain over the last one year?
It's been a good year - some good results, a lot of learning curves as well. But I do look at it as a year of growth. Obviously losing the likes of Brendon [McCullum] - he did a fantastic job - along with a number of other senior players, the team is going to take a slightly different shape. So, it's been great to be a part of that [and] see the team grow over a period of time. Hopefully we can continue that moving forward.

Tell us about the Auckland ODI against Australia when Marcus Stoinis was going all guns blazing, threatening to close the game out. And then you station yourself at silly mid-on and finish things with a run-out. What was the thinking behind that move?
Yeah, that was a great game of cricket. Stoinis played fantastically well. On a small ground at Eden Park, that can happen. You get in and you can start hitting the ball out of the park quite easily, and he did that superbly. Yeah, probably a little bit lucky in the end. We had a couple of opportunities for run-outs. [Josh] Hazlewood was at the other end, and I think he faced just one ball for a good half an hour or so. So it was a very effective partnership that took the game right down to the wire, but it was nice to get across the line.

Is that piece of tactical work evidence that you have evolved as a leader?
Ah, it's spot on, mate!

No, look, I was a bit lucky. I was fortunate that I was there for a throw from someone else to take the bails off. A direct-hit run-out isn't always the easiest thing, but nice when you are about 30 centimetres away from the stumps. I was a bit lucky.

"I think when you have that team-oriented focus, the results can take care of themselves without individuals thinking about their little stats and things" © AFP

What has been the toughest part of captaincy so far? Has it brought out a side of yours that you weren't familiar with?
Umm, yeah, I mean there are a lot of different experiences. The nature of the role is that you are going to be having a number of different experiences and there are a lot of things that are new, so whether it's a positive experience or a negative experience is almost irrelevant. It's just the fact that it is different and adopting that, embracing that and maintaining your focus on what the job is, which is about your team that you are looking after. Trying to see the team track in the right direction is always the focus.

What were the lessons learnt from the series defeats in India and South Africa?
They were some really tough tours. I think previously we had a couple of really good years and had a lot of cricket at home, and I suppose we had a really good rhythm about our cricket. Losing a number of players, like I mentioned, there is always that transition and coming up against some of the toughest sides in world cricket in their backyard is a really difficult challenge.

But I think any experience you have, particularly a tough experience, is great and there are things to learn from them to move your game forward. I think when individuals are doing that then that's certainly contributing to moving the team forward. I think that's why I mentioned it was a growth year. There were some ups, there were some downs, but to see the team get to a point where we are playing South Africa at home - a very strong side - and I think we saw a number of improvements that, I guess, were based on experiences that we had throughout the year.

"I think any experience you have, particularly a tough experience, is great and there are things to learn from to move your game forward"

As one of the world's best batsmen, and as someone constantly looking to get better, do you think that is one of the ways you can set the bar for everyone else as a leader?
You are always looking to improve, always looking to contribute to the team performance. And that truly is the focus. I would like to think that I am one of the XI at any given time that is all sharing that same focus. Yeah, you talk about stats and things, that's cool, but it's not really what it's about. It's about trying to move your team forward, trying to help your team get across the line. I think when you have that focus, you build a good team culture, and often those results can take care of themselves without individuals thinking about their little stats and things.

Does it sometimes frustrate you that the team probably isn't moving at the same pace as you are?
No, I think there are always guys who have had less experience. There are a number of guys who have had a lot of experience, who are world-class players. You look at Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner in the Test team - they have been really, really good for a long period of time. [There is] Ross Taylor, who has been world-class for a number of years. When you mix it in with a number of younger players who have had their first experience of international cricket, there is a pretty good blend to move forward with a relatively young unit. So it's the nature of the beast. Guys come in at different times, learn at different speeds, but ultimately it's about tracking in the right direction and pushing each other to get better.

Tell us about the equation you share with coach Mike Hesson and how that has helped put a core philosophy in place that everyone buys into.
It's been a good journey over the last year. I mentioned that the team is slightly different, which means you have to accommodate that [difference]. He has been really open for us. We are working really well together to try and create that [openness] and see the team moving in the right direction. I mentioned our success last year with the Sunrisers Hyderabad and how we would perhaps have to be a little bit different this year to keep ahead of the game, for want of a better term. And that's sort of similar with the New Zealand cricket team that takes a different shape. Or any side in any sport takes a different shape - you do have to go into it with an open mind to be able to create a bit of change to help the side move forward.

Williamson runs out Hazlewood to clinch the Auckland ODI in January: "Nice when you are about 30 centimetres away from the stumps. I was a bit lucky" © Getty Images

Given the amount of cricket you have had with very little down time, do you find enough bandwidth for you and Hesson to chart out a long-term roadmap for New Zealand cricket?
Yeah, it is a constant challenge in the international calendar where there is so much cricket. Then you throw in the IPL and some other T20 competitions and you don't have too many days off. But we are fortunate to do it and I guess it is learning on the job and trying to stay elastic with your thinking. We are always looking to think ahead and that's the best way to do it. We have got a little bit of time off international cricket now - we have the IPL - where a lot of those conversations will be had.

How do you recharge your batteries?
Come to India, play in the IPL (smiles).

Look, it's always nice spending time at home. I live near the beach, so I spend a bit of time there, bit of surfing and doing different things. It's great travelling, changing formats. That can help keep you fresh, changing teams as well and being involved in different cultures. It's always nice coming to India with the fantastic culture that is here.

"It's great travelling, changing formats. That can help keep you fresh - changing teams as well and being involved in different cultures"

Over the years there have been different styles of leadership in New Zealand cricket. You have Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming and Brendon McCullum, who have inspired in different ways. How do you want to lead?
Difficult question. I think your style is based around the team that you have, and trying to move it in what you think might be the best direction. I guess all those players that you mentioned have retired, and you reflect and maybe give them a style. Who knows, maybe in time you will be saying the same thing and say that I had perhaps this style or that style. But it isn't a focus to just adopt a style. I think the team comes first, how the team operates best, and then the style or terminology you might use comes afterwards.

Has the team moved on from the Brendon McCullum era? Is the transition from his "going all out" style to your calm and sedate approach complete?
I hope they have moved on because it's been a year since he has been playing! And it has been a really good year of growth and team tracking nicely. That's the main thing, that's what we are wanting to achieve. As a unit, we put a lot of focus into the culture and hopefully reap the rewards.

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Beau on April 11, 2017, 6:02 GMT

    A pretty solid first year. Probably the results pretty much expected, no better and no worse than that. India tour was a big disappointment, but not exactly much of a surprise. SA just too good, although NZ competed well for the most part. ODIs vs Australia in Australia? Forget it. Still learning as a captain, but it seems like he can do the job and not let it affect his batting too much, which was the main concern going in. Going forward, it'd be great to see better rotation of bowlers, better use of DRS, and perhaps a bit less captaining by committee from KW. Biggest disappointment in his captaincy so far has been his unbelievably poor luck at coin toss time. Seriously, how can the guy that replaced Brendon McCullum, King Of Losing Coin Tosses, actually boast a worse record than Baz? What has NZ cricket done to anger Lady Luck? Must have been something. Something really bad. Seems like she's really, really mad at them, and holding a grudge.

  • Soumya Das Gupta on April 9, 2017, 18:44 GMT

    Looks he will be the best batsman New Zealand has ever produced. He will be termed as a "GREAT" at the end of his career. Well poised to take over as the best batsman of the country taking the batton from the legend lateMr Martin Crowe.

  • rustyryan on April 9, 2017, 16:33 GMT

    Greatest batsman of this generation. As a hardcore Sachin fan, No player has ever reminded me of watching Sachin again as much as KW does. That goes along with his humility, modesty, that simple stance without any exaggerated shuffles, those quiet nods to all the sledging. Such a joy to watch him play. How I wish he does play for India. He weaves magic with his bat, such a seamless batting. All time Legend!!

  • arijit1845150 on April 9, 2017, 15:42 GMT

    This guy is a world class batsman. It is so hurting to see him carrying drinks for SRH. A batsman who sits as high as #3 in the T20Is rankings and having an average of 37, is kept as reserve.

  • Jittu on April 9, 2017, 6:15 GMT

    If only NZ plays as many test matches as Ind, Aus & Eng, would love to imagine how many records this guy could break. Sad to see him carry the drinks for SRH whereas he could be successful as an opener like Gambhir, Rahane who do not have a strike rate of 180, 200 but still effective. But still happy from NZ point of view that he could just rest himself & be fresh for the Champions Trophy!!!

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