THE big question surrounding Yorkshire’s overseas signing last summer was this: He may be Kane, but is he able?
Kane Williamson’s track record suggested that he was more than able of making a favourable impression, and so it proved as the New Zealand batsman scored 403 County Championship runs at 50.37 having joined for the final six weeks of the season.
Now, back for a second stint at Headingley, the 23-year-old is keen to improve on those numbers. The success or otherwise of his mission could go a long way towards determining whether Yorkshire, in turn, improve on their runners-up finish last summer.
Williamson has returned to Leeds a little older, a little wiser, and after a hectic winter in which he scored 1,391 runs in all cricket at 51.51. There were Test centuries against Bangladesh and India plus a strong level of consistency in all formats, culminating in some useful showings at the World Twenty20.
And with just a six-week tour of West Indies starting in late May to take him away from Yorkshire this year, Williamson will be available for most of the campaign, with Australian batsman Aaron Finch a more than capable stand-in while he is away. Amid the hectic whirlpool of international cricket, Williamson admits it will be nice to call Yorkshire home – if only temporarily.
“It’s great to come back here and sort of start afresh, I suppose, and to be able to call a place home for the best part of six months,” he said. “There’s the tour to the West Indies in a few weeks, but it’s nice to get back to Yorkshire and set up a base.
“It’s been a pretty hectic calendar over the winter, and it was good to score a few runs along the way. We had quite a bit of success in the New Zealand summer, performing well against India, and I want to take my form into the English season now and improve on what I did in 2013.”
Williamson was a reliable presence at No 3 as Yorkshire chased the Championship title. He scored five half-centuries in his nine innings, with a top score of 97 against Durham at Scarborough, and he says he jumped at the opportunity to return.
“I was very quick to come back to Yorkshire,” he said. “There’s always a lot of things to consider –not least the busy international schedule. But the opportunity to come back and play with this side was fantastic. I really enjoyed my time last year with the players and the management, and from a personal perspective I think county cricket is really good for your development as you gain a lot of different experiences to move your game forward.”
Yorkshire’s supporters will be hoping there is even more to come from Williamson this summer. His efforts could be vital to the team’s chances, particularly with uncertainty surrounding the availability of certain players such as England’s Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance.
“I’d like a few big hundreds this year,” said Williamson. “Every time you play you want to score 350, and I just want to score as heavily as I can. I don’t think you’re ever quite satisfied with your performances, and I would have liked to have scored a few more last year. At the same time, it could have gone a lot worse for me, and the experience was something I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Williamson saw enough last summer to convince him that Yorkshire are going places. There will be more pressure on them to perform this year but he is adamant they are up to the task.
“We’ve got some outstanding cricketers in our group; we all know that,” he said. “I think if we can keep our feet on the ground and go steady, I’m sure we’ll deliver consistent displays. Each and every one of us will be looking to contribute as much as we possibly can, and if a handful of us come off consistently, that will go a long way towards winning cricket matches. I’m really excited about what lies ahead.”
Yorkshire finalise preparations for the new Championship campaign when they play Northamptonshire in a three-day friendly at Wantage Road starting today.
Yorkshire, who could field 12 players, will again be captained by Ballance, who took charge of the opening first-class game against Leeds-Bradford last week in the absence of the injured Andrew Gale (hip). Gale will sit out this game as a precaution ahead of the Championship opener against Somerset at Taunton, although he will travel to Wantage Road to take part in training.
Yorkshire have confirmed that Tim Bresnan will not play in the Somerset match and that they are currently in discussions with England regarding his availability after the winter period.
Yorkshire squad vs Northamptonshire: Lyth, Lees, Williamson, Ballance (capt), Bairstow, Rashid, Plunkett, Robinson, Patterson, Ashraf, Brooks, Carver.