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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2021 Captain of the year nominees: Kane Williamson vs Virat Kohli

Our nominees for captain of the year forged new paths for their teams, and led them to first-time triumphs

Deivarayan Muthu
23-Jan-2022
Aaron Finch and Kane Williamson ahead of the T20 World Cup final, Dubai, November 13, 2021

Firsts among equals: Aaron Finch and Kane Williamson bagged the T20 World Cup title and the World Test Championship, respectively  •  ICC via Getty Images

Kane Williamson
Tests: P4 W2 D2
T20Is: P12 W8 L4

Williamson led New Zealand to a World Test Championship (WTC) win in June 2021 and to their first-ever T20 World Cup final in Dubai later that year. Despite an injured elbow, Williamson not only set the scene for the WTC win with a first-innings 49, batting for nearly five hours, but also sealed it with an unbeaten 52 in the company of Ross Taylor in tough batting conditions against an India attack that had dominated in all conditions in 2021. Williamson's elbow injury flared up again in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, but he overcame it to produce a masterclass in the final against eventual champions Australia. He smashed Mitchell Starc to smithereens in the course of his 85 off 48 balls, but the title eluded Williamson and New Zealand.
Virat Kohli
Tests: P11 W7 L3 D1
ODIs: P3 W2 L1
T20Is: P10 W6 L4

Kohli's India didn't progress beyond the Super 12s in the T20 World Cup, which would turn out to be his last tournament as India's white-ball captain, but there were enough highlights on the Test front for him to be nominated in this award category again. He is the only captain to have been nominated in all six years of this category's existence. Kohli marshalled India to a Test series victory against England at home and a 2-1 series lead against them in England. India threatened to become the inaugural world Test champion before Williamson and Co denied them. Towards the close of the year, though, India reclaimed their No. 1 Test ranking after beating New Zealand 1-0 at home. Kohli's year as captain ended with India's first Test win in Centurion.
Aaron Finch
T20Is: P17 W9 L8

Not many gave Australia a chance to win the 2021 T20 World Cup. In the build-up to the tournament, there were reports of tension around Justin Langer's hands-on coaching style. Plus, Australia had lost five consecutive T20I series, and Finch himself was an uncertain starter, having undergone knee surgery. However, under his leadership, Australia beat the odds - and New Zealand - to finally add the T20 World Cup to their trophy cabinet. With the bat, Finch started the tournament with a duck against South Africa in Abu Dhabi, but hit back with scores of 37 off 23, 44 off 49, and 40 off 20 balls in his next three innings. All in all, he was Australia's second-highest run-getter in T20Is in 2021 behind Mitchell Marsh, with 459 runs in 17 innings at an average of 28.68 and a strike rate of 125.06.
Babar Azam
Tests: P8 W7 L1
ODIs: P6 W2 L4
T20Is: P29 W20 L6 NR3

Babar led Pakistan in 43 games across formats in 2021, chalking up an enviable win-loss ratio of 2.63. He was front and centre at Pakistan's first victory over India in their 13th attempt in World Cups, forging an unbroken 152-run partnership with Mohammad Rizwan. That sensational win set the tone for Pakistan's unbeaten run in the Super 12s before Australia stopped them in their tracks in the semi-finals. Under Babar, Pakistan thrived in Test cricket too, securing series wins against South Africa at home, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh away, and drawing level in the Caribbean. They also clinched ODI and T20I series wins in South Africa. Babar led with the bat, making 1760 runs in 45 international innings at 40.93, at an average of 40.93. Only Rizwan (1915) and Joe Root (1855) scored more runs than him last year.
Gerhard Erasmus
T20Is: P14 W9 L5

Under Erasmus' leadership, Namibia won nine of 14 T20Is they played last year, the highlight being their qualification into the Super 12s in their first World Cup appearance. Namibia suffered a drubbing at the hands of Sri Lanka in their opener, but they stormed back with successive wins against Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland. Erasmus broke his finger during the warm-up matches, but he soldiered on, with Namibia's assistant coach Albie Morkel revealing he headed straight to the operation theatre after the T20 World Cup. Under the circumstances, Erasmus' unbeaten 53 against Ireland turned out to be an even more significant contribution to Namibia's inaugural World Cup run.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo