31 Mar 2017

Long live King Kane - New Zealand's best cricketer

7:08 pm on 31 March 2017

Opinion - Kane Williamson was rightly anointed New Zealand's best cricketer of the summer at the annual glitzy blue-carpet gala last night, but is the unassuming 26-year-old already New Zealand's best batsman ever?

Kane Williamson in T20i beige.

Black Caps captain Kane Williamson: Long live King Kane, arguably our best cricketer ever. Photo: Photosport

If you're asked to name our greatest cricketer and you're born before 1980, your mind will probably jump to Martin Crowe. Anybody born before 1970 would probably name Glenn Turner and those born before 1960 would likely go for Bert Sutcliffe. And then there's Ross Taylor.

But Williamson has more than a handy case in his favour.

His numbers are already the best (see below), but numbers never tell the entire story, especially when comparing eras.

The bats, the bowlers, the protection and the pitches are all very different, with the game becoming increasingly more batsman-friendly through the ages.

Sutcliffe, for example, played against some of the quickest bowlers in history, like South Africa's Neil Adcock, on uncovered pitches with tiny bats, no thigh pads, no helmets and gloves that more closely resembled those used for gardening today, rather than batting.

Compared to today, getting hurt - and the fear of it - played a far bigger role.

The equipment improved, as did protection, but neither Crowe or Turner played with the slabs of wood they use as bats these days.

Black Caps captain celebrates his 16th test century.

Here, the Black Caps captain celebrates his well-earned 16th test century. Photo: Photosport

Heroism adds to a player's standing too - Sutcliffe being struck in the head by Adcock in 1953, Crowe retiring hurt after he wore one from Bruce Reid in the face while wearing a grill-less helmet in 1986 at Lancaster Park, only to then come back and score a century - those stories build people up as heroes in our memories.

Crowe also scored three hundreds against a West Indies attack featuring Marshall, Garner and Holding - the biggest, 188, in their backyard. He scored a sensational 108* against Akram and Younis in 1990 while his team-mates crumbed and Younis finished with 7-86 from 38 overs.

Turner was very good, but a lack of tests thanks to his ongoing issues with New Zealand Cricket about being paid cost him - and the country - a number of tests and hobbles his claim to be the best.

Sutcliffe's average of 40 was impressive at the time with all things considered, as was the way he batted.

While Turner was stoic and defence based - especially initially - Sutcliffe flowed. The left-hander drove sweetly and pulled and hooked superbly, scoring quickly for the time. He wasn't afraid to hit over the top either - a rarity in that era.

Crowe and Williamson were and are more metronomic, robotic even. Like Crowe did, Williamson dominates without dominating. He doesn't crush bowling attacks, he gently disassembles them piece by piece until they're left a broken pile.

A dejected Kane Williamson after being dismissed in the third and final one-day loss to Australia.

Williamson now averages a truly world class 51.16, and it's only going up. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Crowe and Williamson's respective averages (45.36 and 51.16) are about the same to me. Batting has got easier so add a bit of equipment inflation to Crowe's and you get Williamson's.

But there is more to consider.

Crowe played two of his 77 tests against Zimbabwe while Williamson has played them four times and Bangladesh four times. And the West Indies side he's played seven times is a very different one to the one Crowe faced off against.

That said, Sri Lanka were emerging during Crowe's time, as well.

Like Turner, Crowe was the batting rock his team relied heavily upon. Williamson is obviously in a similar boat, but having Taylor alongside him - and to a lesser extent Brendon McCullum before his retirement - surely allays some of that pressure.

Crowe often used to bat at number four, behind a combination of John Wright, Bruce Edgar, Trevor Franklin and Andrew Jones. Their job was often to stay in, blunt the new ball and allow Crowe to do his job. It was a great plan and played to the side's strengths of the time, but it's not been a luxury afforded Williamson.

He's spent the majority of his time at number three, and with the cot-case that has been the New Zealand opening partnership, he has faced more new balls than some of the openers tried out ahead of him.

We do like to look back fondly at past players, but how much do rose-tinted glasses shape how we see as No 1?

Crowe's 299 against Sri Lanka in 1991 and his out-of-the-box thinking in the 1992 World Cup - as well as his phenomenal batting in that tournament - helped him reach cult hero status.

Our tall poppy mentality often stops us doing the same with current players, but Williamson is truly outstanding and this next point swings my vote as New Zealand's best to him.

After a century on debut against India, Williamson's average through 18 test innings was 27.94. Those numbers are comparable to that of Henry Nicholls', who numerous people wanted dropped.

Williamson now averages a truly world class 51.16, but it's only going up. In his past 25 tests - 12 of which have been against Australia, India or South Africa - he's scored 10 hundreds and averages 72.16. Phenomenal.

Long live the King.

The Numbers

Kane Williamson

Tests - 61

Runs - 5116

Hundreds - 17

Average - 51.16

Best - 242*

Martin Crowe

Tests - 77

Runs - 5444

Hundreds - 17

Average - 45.36

Best - 299

Glenn Turner

Tests - 41

Runs - 2991

Hundreds - 7

Average - 44.64

Best - 259

Bert Sutcliffe

Tests - 42

Runs - 2727

Hundreds - 5

Average - 40.10

Best: 230*

Ross Taylor

Tests - 81

Runs - 6030

Hundreds - 16

Average - 47.10

Best - 290