Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Ponting's verdict on Kiwi batting king Williamson
The Test legend admits he had reservations about the New Zealand skipper's potential early in his international career but now likens him to Australia's Steve Smith
4 December 2019, 08:00 PM AEST
Test legend Ricky Ponting admits he wasn’t blown away by Kane Williamson’s batting ability when he first laid eyes on him eight years ago.
Williamson was just 21 years old when he toured Australia for a two-Test series in late 2011, a year before Ponting drew down the curtain on his own decorated international career.
The young Kiwi, who had scored a century on Test debut in India a year earlier, averaged just 18 with the bat in that series, was caught twice by Ponting at second slip and left a fairly unremarkable impression on the Australian great.
But some prophetic words from Kiwi veteran Brendon McCullum during that series planted the seed that Ponting may one day change his mind.
“Brendon McCullum said to me then ‘this kid is going to be one of the best players in the world’,” Ponting recalled recently to cricket.com.au.
“And I thought ‘really?’. He was pretty loose outside off stump and was going pretty hard at the ball.
“But when you see him now and what he’s developed into, he plays the ball later than anybody, he makes big runs, he makes runs consistently and he’s been talked about as a being one of the best players in the world for the last four or five years.
“And he’s their captain, so he’s a very important player for them.”
Having spoken last month of his pre-series excitement about watching Pakistan batting ace Babar Azam this summer, Ponting is equally looking forward to seeing Williamson back on Australian soil for their three-match Domain Test Series, which starts on December 12.
Since that 2011 series, Williamson has scored almost 6000 Test runs at an average of 55.56 and his mark of 20 centuries in that time is bettered by only Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and David Warner.
Since their first meeting, Ponting has mostly seen Williamson up close in the Indian Premier League, where the Kiwi batsman, renowned for his technical nous and calm temperament, has also developed into a valuable T20 commodity.
In Test cricket, there is no greater compliment for a modern batsman than to be compared to Steve Smith, and Ponting sees a lot of the Australian star in the Kiwi skipper.
“I’ve seen him turn himself from an ordinary T20 player into a very good T20 player, and that’s not an easy thing to do,” Ponting says of Williamson.
“That says a lot about the skill that he’s got.
“He’s a bit like Smithy (in Test cricket); he’s very regimented in the way he plays, he plays the ball late, he doesn’t get a big stride at the ball. But he’s just really hard to get out so I’m looking forward to the battle between him and our quicks.”
Williamson scored centuries in both Brisbane and Perth on New Zealand’s 2015 tour of Australia before he was dismissed cheaply twice in the Adelaide Test against the pink ball, which will be used again for the series opener next week.
Just like with Smith, Ponting believes the key to stopping a run avalanche from Williamson this summer will be Australia’s ability to get the Kiwi maestro ‘out of his bubble’.
“I think you’ve got to bowl to him a little bit like I think how you should bowl to Smithy - on a fourth or fifth stump line and reasonably full,” he said.
“He plays the ball really late and drops the ball down to third man a lot, so I think your third slip can be up really close to make him think he can’t play that shot in case it carries to slip.
“(You should) play around with the field behind the wicket, just to get him thinking about it. He looks like one of those guys that, like Smithy, once they get into their bubble and they’re happy with the way everything’s going, you can’t unsettle them, and you can’t get them out.
“So I think you have to unsettle him first and sometimes that’s as easy as just a strange field placement. Put someone in a different spot just to get the batsman thinking ‘what are they doing here?’
“If you just get him thinking something different, you can be a step ahead.”
Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)
Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)