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Kane Williamson: IPL 2018's Captain Marvel

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Kane_Williamson_Sunrisers_Hyderabad_IPL_New_Zealand_CricketOne of the less appreciated traits of the Indian Premiere League (IPL) has been the art of captaincy. The likes of Shane Warne, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir have left their marks as leaders on the tournament over the years, but in all the excitement of the sixes and fours, captaincy is generally not as talked about as it should be. The truth is that while the IPL tests cricketers on various levels, the ones who are challenged the most are the captains.

In T20s, the captain bears the most burdens and with the IPL being such a high-octane tournament, the pressure on the captain of each franchise is immense. In a nearly two-month long tournament where every single move of every team is scrutinized in minute detail by ardent fans and media alike, the job of an IPL captain is never easy. Especially when things start going wrong.

In IPL 2018, one captain left a lasting impression through his leadership: Kane Williamson of Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) has stood out this season for his captaincy. He is captaining an IPL side for the first time and has been remarkable in the way he has guided his team.

Sunrisers Hyderabad ended the league stage at the top of the table and a lot of credit for that has to go to Williamson – both as a captain and a batsman. Hyderabad isn’t a star-studded team like some of the other, more fancied, teams. It has still grown from strength to strength because of the way Williamson has managed them astutely.

It has been fascinating to watch Williamson go about his role as captain. Leadership is a part not often discussed in the frantic action of the IPL. The unmistakable leadership he displayed added a fresh color to the tournament and made it worth watching for that reason alone.

Kane – leading and inspiring from the front

IPL 2018 could not have begun on a worse note for Sunrisers Hyderabad as they lost their maverick captain David Warner before the tournament began (Warner was banned for one-year by Cricket Australia for his involvement in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa). Over the last few years, Warner has been instrumental in the rise of the Sunrisers and almost single-handedly won them the title in 2016.

When the captaincy was handed over to Kane Williamson, not much was expected of him. It was an organic move but Williamson, despite his talent, is not an explosive power-hitter. And in the absence of Warner, Sunrisers were expected to wither.

Funny how things have turned out.

As a batsman and as a captain, Williamson has been an inspiration in IPL 2018. Under his captaincy, SRH looked like a title-winning team. Williamson’s calm and composed demeanor rubbed off on his team members and it is the reason they managed to defend seemingly indefensible targets. The Kiwi star kept his cool under immense pressure and did not allow his team to crumble.

He didn’t lose the plot when Chris Gayle walloped his best bowler, Rashid Khan, for four savage sixes in an over. And he remained calm when Royal Challengers Bangalore needed 26 off 22 balls with five wickets in hand, and ultimately led them to a 5-run win.

Even while Hyderabad lost the title, Williamson remained unflustered. He knew the strengths of his team well and played to them throughout the tournament.

 

Williamson has been quite the opposite of Warner, who was often vocal, always charged up and felt omnipresent on the field. Williamson, on the other hand, has a pacifying persona which allows his players to be relaxed. This is what sets Williamson apart.

 

He has also been very smart in his field placements and astute with his bowling changes. His use of star leg-spinner Rashid Khan particularly has been excellent. Williamson has ensured that Rashid is used in short bursts - in the middle and then at the end - so that the physiological threat of the match-winning leg-spinner over the opposition keeps looming large at all times.

Shakib-Al-Hasan, who was regularly dropped while playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders, has thrived under Williamson’s captaincy. He allowed Shakib to be himself and played him in all the games. Shakib delivered because of the faith his captain showed in him.

Others, like Siddarth Kaul and Manish Pandey, have also been given the faith of their captain, despite an odd failure here and there.

That is the way Williamson loves to operate – to back his players, recognize their potential, give them confidence along with specific roles, and let them perform without burdening them unnecessarily. This is why the SRH players flourished so much under Williamson.

As a batsman, too, Williamson was phenomenal. He took charge of his team’s batting with great aplomb and ended the tournament wearing the Orange Cap for most runs scored. He made 735 runs, including 8 fifties, at a strike rate of 142 - his best IPL performance by some distance. He has been classy, elegant, unflappable and consistent, and has been the rock of the team’s batting unit.

 

His strike rate this season, an impressive 142.44, is significantly higher than his international T20I strike rate of 120. He was explosive when he wanted to be and hit 28 sixes – more than all his sixes in T20Is. The most distinctive feature of Williamson’s batting was the way he paced his innings – getting himself in, stealing singles and twos regularly, and then attacking the bowlers shrewdly to sustain the pressure. 

 

His remarkable performance as a batsman just shows how much Williamson has prospered as a captain. The responsibility of leading a side that had been deprived of their inspiring leader brought out the best in him.

Without courting any controversy or demanding much of the spotlight, Kane Williamson has been arguably the captain of the season. He simply let his performance do the talking. He did not let the ghost of David Warner distress his team and covered them in his cocoon of tranquility.

Though Sunrisers Hyderabad did not win the championship this year, their captain ensured that watching their matches was an enjoyable experience. Yes, winning the IPL crown would no doubt have been the icing on the cake, but Williamson, through his captainship and batting, made the Sunrisers Hyderabad the most impressive team this year. People have come to adore the SRH side because of the way Williamson has led them. The journey of this team, even now that IPL 2018 is over, will be remembered for the captain who led them with great authority and judiciousness.

Kane Williamson has really been the Captain Marvel of IPL 2018. He made the art of captaincy in the IPL enjoyable again.

 

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