Even after the ultimate heartbreak, Kane Williamson was all about grace, poise and magnanimity, writes Sambit Bal as he reminisces a press conference worthy of reverence in the 2020 Wisden Almanack.
“Laugh or cry – it’s your choice, isn’t it?” Barely an hour after apparently being consigned to a lifetime of hurt, Kane Williamson sat smiling in the real-tennis court behind the Lord’s Pavilion, bearing not the faintest resemblance to a man whose spirit has been crushed. He was not burning with indignation or anger; he was not even a little bitter or begrudging.
Williamson was not the first World Cup-losing captain to face a press conference, but who else has lost the World Cup without actually losing? If it was an evening of providential deliverance for England, it was also the cruellest for New Zealand. They had lost their second successive World Cup final, not by the slenderest of margins, but by the travesty of a regulation mandating that fours and sixes counted more than their actual value.
Even before it came to the ties and the tie-breaker, there was the case of a dismissal turning into a six, when Trent Boult back-pedalled on to the ropes, and the misfortune of another six along the carpet via a ricochet off the bat. Had the umpires been more vigilant, this should have been a five, leaving England’s No. 10 on strike with four to get off two balls.
Distance brings perspective, and time heals pain but, despite the rawness of the moment, Williamson – who had not so much led New Zealand’s World Cup campaign as carried it – was wise enough to concede that the tie-breaker rule existed before the tournament began, and the overthrow rule since eternity, and that the match hadn’t been won or lost in any single moment. He spoke of the uncontrollables – umpiring decisions, reviews and rules – without blaming any.
There was only a hint of wistfulness when he mentioned his disappointment. “It’s hard to swallow” came up a few times. But even the acknowledgment that luck had gone England’s way came with the recognition that this was inevitable in a match of no margins. Whichever side had won would have felt fortunate, he said. “So, yeah, it’s one of those things.”
Grace, poise, magnanimity – and let’s add enlightenment. That luck, human errors, the thinnest of margins are as intrinsic to the game as skill and athletic prowess is common knowledge. But what level of calm it must have taken to grasp this.
The journalist who asked the last question said he was standing up out of reverence for Williamson’s conduct. “Should everyone be a gentleman like you?” he asked. Williamson laughed again. “Everybody is allowed to be themselves. That is a good thing about the world. And everybody should be a little bit different as well.” He paused, and surveyed the room. “That is probably my best answer. Just be yourself and try and enjoy what you do.” Another laugh, echoed by the whole room.
As he started walking off, the applause began. I don’t know who was first to clap, but soon Williamson was receiving a standing ovation from the most cynical bunch of cricket followers, trained not to let emotion get in the way.
Only twice before had I seen cricketers applauded at a press conference: Steve Waugh at Sydney in 2004, then MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh after India’s World Cup win at Mumbai in 2011. In the first instance, it was mainly Australian journalists, saying goodbye to an iconic captain; in the second, it was only Indian journalists, moved by a first World Cup win in 28 years.
With only a handful of New Zealanders present, this was no stirring of national passion for Williamson. It was something much higher: a spontaneous outbreak of warmth, appreciation and gratitude for a man whose dignity and empathy and loveliness had provided the magnificent finish to an unforgettable day.
First published in the 2020 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack