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A chance for Williamson to define his summer

Kane Williamson's challenge is to lead his side out of adversity over the next five days AFP

While New Zealand's top six batsmen were working on their techniques and their think-tank was trying to find ways to outsmart South Africa, Kane Williamson was brushing up an entirely different skill.

"I'm practicing my tosses," Williamson joked on the eve of the Hamilton Test. "Hopefully that helps my chances tomorrow."

Since the T20I against South Africa five weeks ago, Williamson lost the toss in seven matches - five ODIs and two Tests - and not much else has gone his way either. His men remained competitive but succumbed meekly in the 50-over decider and gave up positions of advantage in both Dunedin and Wellington to go 1-0 down in the Test series. All of this while coping with the injury-forced absences of Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and now Trent Boult.

Still, Williamson was in an unusually good mood for a captain who has faced such upheaval that he has had to re-organise his slip cordon to the point where it was unrecognisable. Who will stand where Taylor and Southee once stood? Or were New Zealand keeping that under wraps? "It's not a secret, I am just trying to remember it," Williamson answered neatly, without giving away the starting XI.

It's possible that Williamson did not actually know for sure, because New Zealand were going through what he called an "interesting process" in figuring out the best way to use their resources.

Initially, their coach Mike Hesson explained that going with experience would be in the team's best interests and their actions mirrored that. Jeetan Patel was recalled and Neil Broom, with 137 first-class caps, was preferred over Colin Munro, with 45, in Taylor's No. 4 spot. But now New Zealand have run out of experience, especially in the bowling department, and are being forced to explore further.

Although Colin de Grandhomme can't be called young, except in terms of number of Tests, Scott Kuggeliejn certainly is. Even if Kuggeliejn does not debut in Hamilton, his time is not far away. "He's certainly a player who was touted as one for the future in all formats," Williamson said.

And that's why despite the troubles the team is in, Williamson can understand why this is a crucial stage in its development. In this time, a time of change, Williamson can cement his own stamp on the team he took over at the start of the summer.

In nine months, he has shown himself to be a thinking captain. He may not have the charisma Brendon McCullum did but his sense of humour is witty and well hidden. Williamson always has more to say after a match than before, preferring to analyse than pre-empt, and is measured in his musings.

When he is angry - and he was after New Zealand's collapse in Wellington - he does not over-react. "One bad day," he called it. When he sees progress - and he has throughout the series in Zimbabwe, South Africa and India, and in the home summer - he acknowledges it and sees room for improvement: "We still want to make strides forward as a team."

And when he wants to show intent - not just with bat in hand - he can. "We want to go out and show fight, play a few shots, bowl the ball in the right areas, be nice and aggressive and leave it all out there in the field," he said, in the first instance of proper fighting-talk in this series.

Perhaps that's because so much is riding on this match, not just because it is a must-win game to square the series. As BJ Watling explained, it could also define one of the busiest seasons New Zealand have had, and possibly will have at least until the end of the current Future Tours Programme. After Hamilton, New Zealand don't play home Tests for the next nine months and have no away tours scheduled for more than 18 months.

Williamson will not want his first summer in charge to be remembered for that hour in Wellington, which cost them the series lead. He will also not want it to remembered for the lost tosses, or for the injuries, or for the questions about the depth in his side. He will want it to remembered for how New Zealand fought back over the next five days.