Performing in the sub-continent is almost like an exclusive club, not all cricketers are in it and not all cricketers in it can sustain the excellence. Over the last six years, players like AB de Villiers, Joe Root. and Steve Smith, have shown what exactly makes batting in the sub-continent, a tough prospect.
If it isn’t the sun, it is the spin, if it isn’t that, it is Umesh Yadav and even if all these factors don’t go against you, there is the crowd, which is daunting. Playing in India is almost like being a gladiator inside the Colosseum, it is deafening but once you come out alive, you receive a heroic reception.
In 2017, during the first Test when Steve Smith walked back after a crafty century, he was applauded and cheered by the crowd and since then, the crowd have always been his fan. And in 2021, it was Joe Root, after the double century against India in Chennai.
What’s common between Smith, Root and Williamson? They are all part of the fab-four, and one of the biggest indicators of success in the club is their performance in the sub-continent, especially India. In that context, Smith and Root have already had an upper hand over the Kiwi skipper, which leaves Williamson chasing runs in India.
At home, Williamson’s record perhaps is up there as one of the best in the fab-four, with 65.31 but as and when it comes to away conditions, especially sub-continent, the number takes a hit. In India, the New Zealand skipper averages 35.46 despite having scored a century on his debut in Ahmedabad, which remains his only century against the Men in Blue.
In the entirety of the 2019-21 World Test Championship, New Zealand have only played twice away from home, one in Sri Lanka and the other in Australia. Only 182 of his 918 runs have come away from home during the last two years, showing why Williamson’s only pending test in the longest format: conquering India.
Kane Williamson’s Indian conquest
Post the brilliant announcement of his arrival, Williamson has only sporadically succeeded in India, with three 50+ scores, with all of his other scores in the country being below 35, including four single digit scores. His struggle away from home has been well documented and most of it boils down to, how the BlackCaps as a unit have not played too many games away from home.
But barring Joe Root, Steve Smith has played identical games in India, in fact one Test less and yet has astronomical statistics in tough conditions. Against pace in India, Williamson (73) averages better than Root (52.5) and just behind Smith (79.33), with 17 boundaries.
Even though, Williamson is the fourth highest run-scorer for the BlackCaps against India in the longest format, the numbers aren’t too overwhelming. Where lies the weakness?
Williamson has an outstanding average against spin, 68.32, which should really paint the picture that he aces the spin test well, right? Away from home, the Kiwi skipper’s numbers against the spinners drastically fall down to 49.71, which in comparison to his home record (158.71) is jarringly low. Now once you push that board pin to India, the numbers tell an extremely different story.
Often viewed as a great player against spin, the 31-year-old averages a meagre 28.64 against the tweakers in India, with 11 dismissals, his most dismissal in an away country against a bowling type. Australian pacers have troubled him second-best, with 10 dismissals, at an average of 44.1. In a country where tackling spinners is 101 to playing well in the country, Williamson has suffered the wrath.
How does he weigh up against Root and Smith?
Joe Root rules the roost when it comes to batting in India, similar to how he rules the roost in Sri Lanka. Having played ten Tests in the country, Root has scored 742 runs, averages 49.47 and strikes the ball at 52.7, in conditions that are almost tough for batters to swing against facing the spinners. Not just that, he faces 93.8 balls before being dismissed against spinners in the country, while still finding a boundary every 19th delivery.
In fact, if there was quintessentially a template for the perfect batter, Root would be on that template every single time of the day. He’s calm, he takes stock of the situation and yet comes up with the good everytime his side needs, something that Kevin Pietersen did in India. The closest to Root’s dominance in India: Steve Smith.
With Smith, his approach is quite clear and long and for a few of the modern era viewers, boring. He takes his time to get acclimatized to the conditions, takes stock just as Root but isn’t as aggressive as the Englishman. The Australian batter in India, averages 52.75, against spin only behind Virat Kohli in the fab-four. Three centuries against his name to go with his five half-centuries, the former Australian captain is definitely up there.
A rare opportunity for Williamson
But with Williamson, the stock drops, the share price goes ridiculously down. A career average of 35.46 in India, with just one century and three fifities. And his stock against spin, as low as it has ever gotten with the right-hander in international cricket. Spin remains Williamson’s Achille Heel. That combined with his lack of freeing the shackles, it puts him in a spot of bother, every time the pressure is upon the team.
Having played enough spin in the last 12 months, thanks to the conditions in the Middle East, it set ups a perfect opportunity for Williamson to test the waters in India. Starting from Kanpur, the 31-year-old has challenge in front of him: to succeed in Indian conditions. After having a poor record in England, Williamson overturned that, with two crucial knocks against India in Southampton.
Owing to the Indian Premier League, the Kiwi batter has also had the opportunity to face a lot of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel in the game.
But what he will require though: absorbing a lot of deliveries, showing intent with the larger motive of showing the world that he has conquered it all.