24 Mar 2017

Tough test for Williamson

8:23 am on 24 March 2017

Sports Call - The third and final test against South Africa in Hamilton, starting tomorrow, will reveal a lot about the mettle of this inexperienced Black Caps side but also the ability and tenacity of Kane Williamson's captaincy.

South Africa's eight wicket win at the Basin Reserve last weekend gave the tourists an unassailable 1-nil lead in the series and exposed the fragility of the Black Caps batting order.

Throughout his 60-test career Williamson has been the backbone of the New Zealand batting order but he has generally had batting support, by the likes of Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor.

The Black Caps are struggling against South Africa at the Basin Reserve with skipper Kane Williamson among the early dismissals.

The Basin Reserve test was Kane Williamson's leanest test return. Photo: Photosport

With Taylor missing the second test due to injury, Williamson was left having to carry the batting squarely on his diminutive shoulders.

But it seems a tipping point has been reached.

Williamson has seemingly been able to keep absorbing pressure and responsibility without it impacting his own form.

But scores of 2 and 1 at the Basin Reserve, his worst return in a test, show he's taken on as much as he can.

Yes rookies Jeet Raval and Henry Nicholls did try to step into the breech and performed credibly but they were the exception rather than the rule, as the Black Caps failed to cope with South African spinner Keshav Maharaj on a pitch that was hardly a spinner's paradise.

Williamson labelled the side's batting performance as "unacceptable" but is there anything to suggest they can turn in an acceptable performance on a Hamilton pitch that will suit the spinners?

Unfortunately not.

Kane Williamson leads his team from the field after defeat on Day 3 of the 2nd test match between New Zealand Black Caps and South Africa Proteas. International test match cricket in Wellington on 18 March 2017.

Kane Williamson leads his team from the field after the defeat. Photo: Photosport

Experience counts for an awful lot when it comes to test cricket and the prospect of having to occupy the crease for an entire day or more seems an overwhelming prospect for several Black Caps batsmen.

The top six of the New Zealand batting line-up has 123 tests between them - of those Williamson accounts for 60.

Compare that to the South Africa top six who have more than twice that number behind them - 290 in total.

Remove Hashim Amla, who has played 102 test, and it still leaves South Africa with almost three times as much experience - 188 tests versus 63.

Williamson can't be expected to carry the team.

His leadership style appears to be very much leading by example but when he's out of form, what support can he get from the rest of the batting line-up? Can this group of players step up?

Captaining is a tough assignment at the best of times but when both the captain and the team is struggling it becomes an even tougher job.

Williamson needs to deal with both his individual role as a batsman yet also help his fragile batting line-up recover from a humiliating loss.

He also carries the burden of captaining New Zealand in all three formats - tests, one dayers and T20's. Perhaps thought needs to be given to having him captain only the test side so he can mentally refresh and get a break from having to be directly involved with every ball of every match.

Expect Williamson to bounce back with the bat in Hamilton but whether the rest of the batting line-up is able to appears doubtful.