The bemused look on Kane Williamson’s face when it was announced at Lord’s that he had been named the player of the World Cup said everything about the humility of the New Zealand captain.
Not only were Williamson and his team incredibly gracious when they lost that epic final to England last July by the barest of margins, but their leader could hardly believe he had been singled out for his trademark, unassuming excellence.
Williamson would have been the only one who was surprised. He had, after all, just become the highest-scoring captain in any World Cup, making 578 runs in 10 matches, and only failed to become the first New Zealander to lift the trophy on boundary count.
He is even better in the longer form of the game, where Williamson has become a worthy successor as New Zealand captain to Brendon McCullum, the man who became one of the most significant of all modern cricketing leaders.
There is no question Williamson is one of the best three batsmen in the world right now and he is probably the most modest, too, with none of the arrogant presence of Virat Kohli, nor the chequered record of England’s Ashes nemesis Steve Smith.
It is Williamson, returning after injury to lead New Zealand on his home ground at Mount Maunganui in tomorrow night’s first Test, who is by far the biggest obstacle standing between England and a debut series win under coach Chris Silverwood.
And, crucially, he is the perfect example for his opposite number Joe Root, who was thought to belong in that same exalted company in world batting until the demands of captaincy appeared to leave him a little short of the highest level.
Not that Root — with an average of almost 48 in his 86 Tests — could in any way be considered a failure or in need of justifying his place in an all-too-brittle England top order in a winter programme that begins with these two Tests against New Zealand.
It is just that Root (below) should be capable of matching the record of Williamson that has seen him, with a Test average in excess of 52, become the greatest of all New Zealand batsmen, seemingly unaffected by either his leadership role or his own hectic workload.
To be fair, New Zealand have nothing like the international commitments of England. Williamson, who is nursing an ongoing hip condition, has only batted four times in competitive games since that iconic day at Lord’s.
But he has made up for it by becoming one of the most in demand franchise players in the world and was quickly snapped up by Birmingham Phoenix in the draft for next summer’s inaugural Hundred competition. Williamson still lives just up the road from the Bay Oval ground which will stage its first Test, and he still likes to surf on the picturesque beach at Mount Maunganui.
He will be either rusty or fresh after his break, but he will always be elegant and mightily effective as England well know, with Jofra Archer quick to point out in his Sportsmail column yesterday that Williamson represents as big a threat now as Smith did during the Ashes summer.
Quite why Root has not been able to keep pace with Smith, Kohli and Williamson remains a matter of debate.
A personal view is that he should give up any pretensions to be part of England’s Twenty20 plans and concentrate on what he does best.
Yet he would argue that short-form cricket has not done the others any harm, even though Smith, in particular, is similar to Root in being a much better Test and 50-over player than in the ever expanding short-form world.
The England captain admits he suffered technical issues last summer and went back to work with Josh Varley, his old friend and coach at Sheffield Collegiate, before a winter that will provide further examinations in South Africa and Sri Lanka.
England have demonstrated their backing of his leadership by providing a more ‘hands-on’ coach in Silverwood to take some of the logistical load off Root, while also allowing him to return this week to his favoured No 4 position in the order. Now Root just has to gaze across at the man he will walk out to toss a coin with tomorrow night for the inspiration he needs to fully justify his vast potential.
For Kane Williamson, still only 29, will go down as a genius and a great of the game. Even if he would be far too modest to acknowledge that himself.