Cricket: Blackcaps remain cautious over Kane Williamson's knee injury, months on from miracle recovery

Nearly three months on from his incredible comeback from a knee injury, the Blackcaps are still treading carefully over the fitness of white-ball captain Kane Williamson.

In April 2023, Williamson suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee, while fielding for Gujarat Titans in the Indian Premier League.  

But despite a recovery timeline of minimum nine months, Williamson returned in six, and captained the Blackcaps to the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup in India.

Kane Williamson against Australia.
Kane Williamson against Australia. Photo credit: Getty Images

However, that return appears to have come at a cost.

After playing in the Blackcaps' 1-1 World Test Championship series draw away in Bangladesh, including scoring his 29th test century at Sylhet, Williamson is yet to take the field for the start of the Kiwi summer.

Rested for the 2-1 home ODI series victory, Williamson was named to lead the Blackcaps in three Twenty20 Internationals to round out 2023, only to be withdrawn, citing the need for more rest of his still-recovering knee.

Earlier this week, the 33-year-old was confirmed to captain the Blackcaps for the five-match T20 series against Pakistan starting on January 12.

However, the captain will only be available for games one, two, four and five, and will be given a rest for the series' midway point in Dunedin.

And as coach Gary Stead explained, Williamson's fitness needs to be managed in a year that will see test series against South Africa and Australia before a T20 World Cup in June.  

"The injury he had was a very, very serious injury," he said. "He did amazingly well to even be in contention for that World Cup.

"Since then, we've had a little bit of swelling in the knee, and a little bit of irritation.

Kane Williamson celebrates his century against Sri Lanka.
Kane Williamson celebrates his century against Sri Lanka. Photo credit: Photosport

"The medical advice is we could keep pushing on. But it's probably not going to be completely healed. But if we can give him small blocks of time that he can improve, then we do that.  

"Travel and flights are definitely a factor where the knee can potentially blow up a little bit. We're trying to reduce the amount of travel he can have.

"Not having two flights to Dunedin is one of the reasons. It gives him a small break to keep doing his strengthening and rehab around his knee."

And while the Blackcaps did toy with the prospect of resting Williamson for the series altogether, the man himself has insisted he play a part.

Even with that ACL injury wiping away most of 2023, Williamson's numbers still make for incredible reading.

In tests, he scored 695 runs at an average of just shy of 58 with four centuries from seven matches, and in ODIs Williamson's numbers read 420 runs at an average of 70, with five half-centuries, without playing a T20 for New Zealand.  

Those kind of numbers through his peak years as a batter mean Stead is prepared to do whatever's necessary to keep Williamson wearing the silver fern for as long as possible.

"Kane wants to play, and that's a great thing as well. He's certainly not shirking wanting to be on the field for New Zealand.

"It's for us trying to get that right balance, that we have him for a long period of time, and we don't break him again.

"From Kane's perspective, I know he wants to play every game that's out there. [But] if we get this right, hopefully it prolongs his career for a long period of time."