It is the last ball of the 47th over, Australia need seven runs to win with one wicket in hand. Marcus Stoinis is on a rampage at Eden Park in Auckland. He has already clubbed 11 sixes and is unbeaten on 146. Kane Williamson has a big decision to make – how does he keep Stoinis off strike for the next over? Does he risk conceding a six or a four? How does stop the single to ensure Stoinis doesn't get the strike?
Williamson decides to do something unorthodox. He places a couple of boundary riders, but stations himself right to the non-striker, alongside the pitch. It is a peculiar fielding position. Next ball, Stoinis blunts the yorker straight to Williamson, who underarms it on to the stumps, to run out the non-striker. It is a tactical masterstroke. After the match, Williamson explained his rationale to the broadcasters: "I knew they would try to take the single, so instead of relying on a direct hit, I would be at the stumps to receive the throw, luckily the ball went straight to me".
In that small passage of play, Williamson exhibited his cricketing brain. He was one step ahead of the game, a trait that not many captains inculcate. Williamson has always been a leader from a young age. He captained cricket, volleyball, basketball teams and was also the head boy at Tauranga Boy's college. He had led New Zealand at the Under-19 level and captained his nation in his 25th ODI, so captaincy has not been anything new.
By the time Williamson officially took over from Brendon McCullum in 2016, there was a sense of expectation to mirror the aggressive brand of captaincy. McCullum was a perennial gambler with his decisions on the field. He was prepared to stick to his brand. He was often overtly aggressive at times, but the style was fetching him positive outcomes and resulted in New Zealand reaching the 2015 World Cup final.
There would have been pressure on Williamson to imitate McCullum style, but he preferred to carve out his own path. Williamson's captaincy might be more sedate to his predecessor but it reflects the way he goes about his own business — quiet and unassuming.
Recently, Trent Boult told scroll.in in an interview "Kane doesn't try to be like Brendon McCullum. He holds his own strength and doesn't try to captain as Brendon did, or anybody else for that matter".
Williamson has his own methods and his astute mind has played a crucial role in the decision making. Against India in the semi-final, he introduced Mitchell Santner knowing Rishabh Pant will go after him. He employed three men in space of 15 meters on the leg-side for Virat Kohli, to ensure he didn't get off strike to Trent Boult with a flick off his pads. He trusted Matt Henry in the death overs, despite his fast bowler being smashed for 26 by Carlos Braithwaite in the previous encounter. Importantly, he has played a major role with the bat by scoring 30 percent of New Zealand's runs at the tournament.
As a captain, Williamson has also been willing to make the tough decisions. Leading up to the World Cup, he realised that Tim Southee could not be accommodated in the playing XI, due to his declining numbers in the ODI format, so he dropped the vice-captain. Dropping a senior player can create a rift or a division in camps, but the Black Caps are a tight unit and it highlights the man-management skills of Williamson.
While other captains have three to four game-breakers in their line-up, Williamson only has a couple, him being one of them. Working with limited resources and still have success is a rare occurrence. Williamson understands this team precisely. Each player has a dedicated role and in case they fail, there is always Kane. It must help him that he has been the backbone of New Zealand's batting for close to a decade now. Pressure is now purely a word, deep down he relishes it — both as a batsman and a captain.
Come Sunday at Lord's, Williamson will be constantly under the spotlight, but it is highly unlikely that you will ever see him panic. The dark glasses and the thick beard will hide his emotions. However, underneath that Black Cap, that brain will always be ticking. Expect a few unconventional fields, irregular bowling changes and a couple of shrewd tactical decisions on Sunday. They might not stand out from far, nor will Williamson's body language, but be assured Williamson will utilise his resources in the best possible manner to achieve a World Cup title.