Kane Williamson has come in for plenty of criticism during New Zealand’s tour of Australia, the most stinging of which came from former skipper Brendon McCullum. A duck in the second innings of the second Test did little to ease the pressure on himself, the team and his captaincy.
“They just rolled over,” McCullum had bemoaned after the second day of New Zealand’s Boxing Day Test against Australia. And a second-innings capitulation on the fourth day, when they conceded a 247-run win to Australia and the series 2-0, did little to address concerns around the team.
The visitors were outplayed in every department by Tim Paine’s men at the MCG. While their second-innings total, driven by a fighting 121 from Tom Blundell, was their highest of the series so far, it still meant Australia needed than a day to bundle them out. With Trent Boult ruled out due to injury, the New Zealand innings ended at 240-9 in the final session of the fourth day, with no batsman other than Blundell making more than 33.
Australia win the series!
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) December 29, 2019
While Williamson has a strong captaincy record at home with 11 wins and just one loss in 17 Tests, he has won just five out of 13 Tests away from home, two of which came against Zimbabwe. His batting average of 55.76 as captain is better than his career average of 51.44, but he has been in terrible form in Australia so far, registering scores of 34, 14, 9 and 0.
Commenting on Channel Seven, McCullum had questioned everything from Williamson’s tactics to his appetite for the role of captain. “I’m one of Kane Williamson’s biggest fans, I really am. I think he’s done a magnificent job with the New Zealand side in his time,” McCullum said on Saturday. “[But] he’s been a slightly reluctant leader at times and I just noticed a bit of a trend where he doesn’t look to me as though he’s really enjoying the role as much as what he has in the past.”
Advising Williamson to go back to the drawing board, McCullum urged him to remember why he started, and to put on a show for the fans that travel thousands of miles to watch them play. “Sometimes the pressure and the extremities that you get put under at this top level can take a little bit of that enjoyment away and especially as captain how you portray yourself has such a big bearing on the environment,” he said.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) December 29, 2019
“There were 20,000-odd New Zealanders who have travelled from across the ditch to come and watch New Zealand. And even though New Zealand was under an immense amount of pressure the New Zealand national anthem was being belted out from the stands. And it’s just how proud of this team that he’s built that New Zealand is.”
Either McCullum’s counsel worked for Williamson, or he never really needed it. On Sunday, despite the defeat, Williamson wore a smile and showed off his leadership by taking the time to thank the visiting New Zealand fans at the MCG.
“The support around this Test match has truly been special and the guys truly appreciate it,” he told a group of fans at the stadium. “I imagine footballers feel a little bit like this! Despite the result, the passion has been truly inspiring and we want to thank you guys,” he said to loud cheers.
— The ACC (@TheACCnz) December 29, 2019
Williamson also didn’t shy away from the fact that the team need to improve quickly before the third Test in Sydney to avoid a whitewash. However, he refuted the suggestion that his tactics had been too conservative.
“I don’t understand some of the tactics to be honest,” McCullum had told SEN Radio. “It’s just staggering. To me, it was a submissive move. I just don’t understand it.”
Without responding to the criticism directly, Williamson told presspersons, “In cricket you do have to deal with failure a lot. From a team perspective it’s not so much the losses but more the focus on how we’re tracking and where can we improve.
“For me it’s about always trying to improve and wanting to contribute to the team as many ways as you can, whether that’s in the field as captain or with the bat. That focus is there. We’ll put in the training and the guys will be looking forward to Sydney as an opportunity to improve and build on those performances.”
Agreeing that things didn’t go to plan after they won the toss and chose to bowl, the skipper said, “There was a missed trick there. If we’re being critical we did need to be better [on day one], we needed to put the ball in the right area for longer periods. We went past the bat a few times but perhaps we were still a bit short on that front.
“The plan isn’t to be conservative but, obviously, the bowling has been of a high class which is what you expect. Like I said, they have a number of assets to the way that they bowl, to the pace and the bounce but I think their accuracy at the moment is what is the most challenging.”