Alex Chapman: Poetic symmetry of Tim Southee, Kane Williamson celebrating concurrent Blackcaps test centuries

OPINION: Before the third test between the Blackcaps and England in 2008, all the talk was about one man.

The match at McLean Park at Napier (remember when test cricket was played there?) would see the curtain would fall for the final time on Stephen Fleming’s career.

Coincidentally - perhaps even ironically - another future great of the team stepped onto centrestage in that match.

In second over of day one, a 19-year-old swing bowler from Northern Districts stood on the edge of the National Bank logo. His messy hair touching his partially popped collar, he wandered around the top of the mark, like a dog deciding where to lie down.

Kane Williamson and Tim Southee discuss tactics for the Blackcaps.
Kane Williamson and Tim Southee discuss tactics for the Blackcaps. Photo credit: Photosport

The nervous energy is clear - he just wants to get on with it.

The wait gives commentator Michael Atherton time to talk about this teenager.

"A short while back, he was playing in the U19 World Cup, where he was Player of the Tournament.

"He took 17 wickets at an average of six. I thought that was misprint, when I read it this morning in the paper."

It wasn’t a misprint then nor is it now. Tim Southee eventually ran in, hit a nice length, perhaps slightly back-of, and it’s defended into the onside.

"Good, Timmy!" yelled the wicketkeeper. How often would that be said, not just by Brendon McCullum, but Blackcaps glovemen and players throughout the years?

The crowd politely applauded, almost like when a golfer makes a solid approach.

Southee got through his over and a few balls into his second, had Michael Vaughan playing and missing a couple of times, before trapping the England captain on the crease.

The slow, rising finger of umpire Rudi Koertzen sent Vaughan on his way and the New Zealand team into raptures.

Southee went on to claim five wickets in that test. He’s taken another 14 bags since.

Throughout that bowling effort, the commentators admired the skill of this youngster. They spoke of his build, and how he’d get fitter and stronger.

Bob Willis made what would prove to be a prophetic claim that "Tim Southee might just be a real find for the Blackcaps", before going on to compare him to Stuart Broad, who was also early on in his career.

Fitting that Broad too enjoyed a lengthy partnership with a fellow-fast bowler for so long.

By the time he leads New Zealand out on Friday, Southee will be two weeks shy of 16 years since his debut. He's gone from that fresh-faced, barely known, teenager to one of New Zealand's three greatest fast-bowlers.

He's in the conversation, along with great mate Trent Boult, for who sits second behind Sir Richard Hadlee.

Coincidentally, the man he’ll share his 100th test with is in the conversation as New Zealand's greatest ever.

Tim Southee on debut against England 2008.
Tim Southee on debut against England 2008. Photo credit: Photosport

Not greatest bowler (that was never going to be an option) nor New Zealand’s greatest ever bat (he’s gone past Martin Crowe), but New Zealand’s greatest ever cricketer.

Like Southee, Kane Williamson wasted little time announcing himself to the world, when he got his black cap almost 20 months later.

The 20-year-old was a bit more known on the domestic scene, with an average of 46 from 21 first class games, and a reputation that preceded him before he even arrived at Ahmedabad, India for his debut.

As the hosts dished out a diet of mainly spin, Williamson feasted, his cutlery of choice primarily backfoot punches.

While he barely acknowledged the applause when he reached his maiden half century, he couldn’t help but grin when he tonned up.

That celebration would be as exuberant as Williamson would get in his 98 tests, 31 hundreds and six double-hundreds since.

He’s gone from grinning ear to ear like a kid delighted to receive what he desperately begged Santa for to the polite nod of approval of another pair of socks. It's the courteous smile when you pass someone in the office who you sort of know.

You know the one I mean.

Like Southee, he's no longer baby-faced - that well-groomed beard of his, which many seem to admire almost as much as his batting, has helped with that.

Almost, being the key word, because how can anything usurp the enjoyment of watching Williamson bat?

Kane Williamson celebrates test century on debut against India.
Kane Williamson celebrates test century on debut against India. Photo credit: Photosport

It's almost therapeutic for viewers. Knowing the meticulous preparation he puts into each innings makes lying on the banks of a Hagley, Basin or Bay even more relaxing and safe.

For so long, even in the most dire of situations and collapses, fans have said with certainty, "It'll be alright, Kane’s still there".

Even now, his preparation is precise. On the day of a match, be it a T20, ODI, or test, he's often one of, if not the last hitting balls. While others are kicking a football, doing a walkthrough or having a quick feed, he's getting throwdowns.

Williamson's success is built on sheer hard work. There's no doubt there's natural talent there - the shoulders of coaches and teammates will tell you how much toil has gone into it.

There’s a determined desire to be perfect, knowing well that it's a pursuit that will never be achieved.

Still, he tries and often succeeds. His stats speak for themselves - 8675 runs at an average above 55 and runs all over the world.

He's not only in the discussion of New Zealand's greatest ever, but the world's best at the moment.

Both Southee and Williamson deserve to have their own, separate chance to bring up 100 tests, yet it’s almost fitting that, like their 50th, they’ll do so together. Southee the skipper and Williamson his predecessor, although still the understated and underrated star of the side.

Tim Southee and Kane Williamson interview each other during Blackcaps media session.
Tim Southee and Kane Williamson interview each other during Blackcaps media session. Photo credit: Photosport

They clearly have a good relationship - Southee will still wander down to midoff and chat with Williamson. Whether that’s for ideas or assurances, only they can say, but the bond dates back to their times together in age-grade and domestic teams.

When Southee bowls, Williamson often stands at third slip, and when his skipper either isn’t trotting in or has given himself a spell, he replaces Williamson.

Both are methodical masters - Williamson slices through gaps down to third man, while Southee works a batter over with outswing, before either nicking them off or getting them with that wobble ball.

They've developed over time, and adapted to both conditions and the climate of cricket, through use of the crease, different grips and a great pride in wearing the fern.

Who knows how much longer New Zealand cricket fans will get to enjoy these two. The departures of the likes of Boult, Ross Taylor and most recently Neil Wagner are reminders that it may not be long.

Neither of them are getting any younger, but watching Tim Southee bowl and Kane Williamson bat will never get old.

Alex Chapman is a Newshub sports reporter