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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2021 Captain of the year: Kane Williamson's glory year

He led New Zealand to one world title and to the brink of another

Deivarayan Muthu
Tests: P4 W2 D2
T20Is: P12 W8 L4

Two years after suffering a heartbreaking defeat in the 50-over World Cup final without actually losing, New Zealand clinched the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) title. Fittingly, Williamson, the captain, was at the forefront of their success, following up his first-innings 49, which lasted nearly five hours, with a more fluent 52 to seal what is arguably New Zealand's most memorable victory in their cricket history. All this while dealing with a bad elbow and one of the best attacks in the world, who had bested Australia in their backyard at the start of the year.
Williamson was unavailable at different points in 2021 because of paternity leave or injury, but he and coach Gary Stead had built a robust team culture that could withstand such absences. Anyone who came into the side fit in seamlessly and made an impact. Cases in point: Kyle Jamieson, Devon Conway, Jacob Duffy and Rachin Ravindra among others.
Canterbury allrounder Daryl Mitchell was supposed to be New Zealand's finisher at the T20 World Cup in the UAE, but Williamson boldly trialled him at the top and was impressed with the power he brought to the role. Mitchell carried New Zealand into their first-ever T20 World Cup final, where Williamson's finesse and mastery gave them a tilt at another global title - before Mitchell Marsh and David Warner cruelly crushed their hopes. Nevertheless, it was a year in which Williamson staked his claim to be ranked New Zealand's greatest captain.

Key moment

Seven years ago, ahead of the ODI World Cup final, the late Martin Crowe wrote: "What will Williamson display when the pressure is at boiling point? Certainty." That certainty and clarity on an extraordinary sixth day, the reserve day, in the company of Ross Taylor, helped New Zealand knock off a target of 139 in 53 overs in the WTC final. It was a particularly challenging target, seeing there was a bit of weather around; another wicket or two could have induced a collapse, but Williamson combined with Taylor for an unbroken 96 in 28.3 overs to seal the deal. The image of the old pair walking off the Rose Bowl together, under late-evening sunshine, has become iconic; New Zealanders have even suggested it should be immortalised as a statue at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

The numbers

918 Runs scored by Williamson in 16 innings at an average of 61.20 in New Zealand's run to the inaugural WTC title.
85 Runs made by Williamson against Australia in the T20 World Cup final last year, the joint highest, alongside Marlon Samuels, in a T20 World Cup final.
2 Number of global title wins for New Zealand in their history. Their only trophy-winning campaign before the WTC win was in the ICC Knockout in 2000.

What they said

"I'm sure we'll look back at this moment and be so proud of what Kane's men have been able to achieve and the heights they've been able to scale. For a country with pretty limited resources, it is pretty amazing really, and to do it against the powerhouse of world cricket on the biggest stage is something that makes it more satisfying."
- Brendon McCullum, former New Zealand captain, on the WTC win
"I think we saw a lot of heart, a lot of commitment. What's important to our group is our commitment to our style of cricket. And we had to, we know how strong this Indian side is in all conditions."
- Kane Williamson after the WTC final

The closest contenders

Babar Azam
Babar led Pakistan to their first victory over India in their 13th attempt in World Cups. He oversaw Pakistan's stellar, unbeaten run in the Super 12s before their T20 World Cup campaign came to a shuddering halt in the semi-final against Australia.
Gerhard Erasmus
Despite breaking his finger during the warm-ups, Erasmus marshalled Namibia into the Super 12s in their first World Cup appearance. His match-winning 53 not out against Ireland was one of their highlights of the tournament.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo