ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Virat Kohli vs Kane Williamson " Tale of two similar yet different players
Trust social media to dig up everything buried deep in the past. By now, if you are part of the cricketing universe, you would know that Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson led their respective sides in the Under-19 World Cup semi-final in Malaysia, back in 2008.
Kohli knows it too. So does Williamson. But here is a nugget for you, perhaps missed even by social media. Eleven years ago, in that semi-final, Kohli had dismissed Williamson. Neither of them remembers it. A decade is a very long time in international cricket, after all.
It spans careers, and eras. It is long enough for gifted talent to fade away without fulfilling what it promised. It is also a time period wherein budding cricketers can blossom into legends. If you turn back pages to 2008, to that tournament, there will be a lot of names both in Indian and New Zealand cricket rosters that didn't make the big leap. And, two names did " Kohli and Williamson.
Back then, they were future hopes, nothing more. Could anyone had assertively said that these two would go on to become torchbearers of their respective nations? In that, they are quite similar. Two promising batsmen who are glowing today thanks to their ability and hard work, leading the batting charts across formats, and shaping their teams' destiny in another World Cup " in 2019.
Look past this generalisation though, for this is where the similarity ends. Kohli is aggressive, and brash, rowdy even to an extent as some fans from various oppositions might define him. He wears his heart on the sleeve, says what he thinks and does precisely what he believes in, whether right or wrong from an external point of view.
As captain, you need to have that particular trait for leadership and it is not just about making decisions but also learning on the job. In that case, Williamson might still be similar, but his decision-making is more like easing a Mercedes into third, fourth and fifth gear, as you gradually step on the accelerator. Kohli, meanwhile, likes to go from 0-60 in less than three seconds " he is a Ferrari, juiced-up.
Williamson is more than just that, though. He is calm and quiet, like the sea before a raging storm, or immediately after it. At the crease, he is a picture of serenity " again an aquatic analogy, albeit equally prevalent. When in full flow, he encompasses all; there is no bowling attack that can suppress him. It is yet another similarity in dissimilarity " Kohli is incomparable too.
Where do you, then, draw the line?
Maybe, by ending this generalisation of their personalities and how their careers have shaped up to whom they are at present. Maybe, by pointing to this tournament in particular, where runs have mattered as has leadership. Both India and New Zealand are at the same vantage point now, and looking up to the same future destination. Their journeys till here, however, have been quite different and this is precisely where there is a fork in the Kohli-Williamson curve.
It has been an odd tournament, where Kohli doesn't have a hundred yet. It is also odd that New Zealand " apart from Afghanistan " are the only side not to breach the 300-mark. India haven't suffered from Kohli's lack of impact innings " Rohit Sharma's stretch of centuries has more than made up for it. That support has been missing in the Black Caps' batting line-up, even Ross Taylor's form has paled in comparison to his statistics from the last two years. Williamson has been the anchor of their World Cup campaign.
Hark back to the last World Cup in 2015, and you will find India's batting was totally dependent on Kohli's success. As soon as he took over the captaincy reins, he went about changing that, forging a batting line-up that can survive and indeed flourish on its own. Stretch that to the entire team structure, and this is well-oiled Indian machinery, capable of grinding out and producing results even without their talismanic captain.
Guess that brash attitude forges this process, a routine that binds the team's structure and indeed works in the longer term as well. It is something akin to what Brendon McCullum did with his New Zealand side in 2015. In terms of attitude, perhaps he was Kohli incarnate, or vice versa. And that Kiwis' team in his image grew to be world-beaters, well almost.
Some of that New Zealand side came to form the mould of the current one, but they do borrow more from Williamson now obviously. It is seen in the manner wherein he has to be workman-like, single-handedly shouldering the batting might of his team in this tournament. He, of course, doesn't see it the same way " as per Williamson, he is just one of the 11 cogs on the field.
It is an over-simplification. Kohli and Williamson tower over most batsmen of this era. To assume some form of dependency on each of them isn't too much a stretch. The differentiation (again) emanates from how their teams have responded to it " India have found a comfort zone and kicked into high gear. New Zealand have stuttered their way into the semi-final, hoping their skipper will come good every time.
McCullum had the independence to step out to Mitchell Starc in the first over of a World Cup final. Williamson doesn't have that liberty, never mind the style. And it is not to say Kohli would jump out impulsively too, no.
The underlying point is in how he simplifies things when batting " the Indian skipper is free to modulate his innings as per the requirements of the team, letting others notch up hundreds (Rohit) or go slam-bang (Hardik Pandya) as per the situation, while he does an accumulation job. He is free if Williamson is tied down.
There is a strange familiarity here. In Kohli, New Zealand come face-to-face with the closest personality they will find to the talismanic McCullum. Thankfully, for their sake, they have Williamson to help counter him.