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Cricket: Williamson proving valuable with more than the bat

Kane Williamson's captaincy and bowling has been as valuable as his batting. Photo / Getty
Kane Williamson's captaincy and bowling has been as valuable as his batting. Photo / Getty

New Zealand's two World T20 wins indicate Kane Williamson is more than just a batsman.

The Black Caps' tactical nous was impressive against both India and Australia, a factor which can be directly attributed to Williamson's transition to the captaincy and proves New Zealand have lost little of their chutzpah in Brendon McCullum's absence.

That is a tribute to Williamson sponging information off McCullum in recent years, especially once he became the obvious heir apparent.

He doesn't appear to be mimicking McCullum; the 25-year-old is too wise for that. He knows he must earn respect through performance, treating team-mates with customary courtesy and, perhaps most importantly, being himself.

There had been suspicions Williamson's outer layer of introversion might not lend itself to leadership, especially when contrasted with McCullum's bravado.

However, evidence suggests Williamson is no parroting puppet.

The use of three spinners - Nathan McCullum, Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner - against India at Nagpur, is arguably the tournament's tactical masterstroke. It threw the tournament hosts into a maelstrom, with Pakistan on their agenda in Kolkata overnight.

The Black Caps' strategy beat India at their own game. While the project would have required consensus, Williamson was tasked with enacting it on the field.

On the smaller Dharamsala ground against Australia, Williamson kept the spinners - himself, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi - out of the attack until the end of the six-over powerplay to minimise the potential for boundary hitting.

Confidence in his personnel then saw him bring each on against bespoke opponents. The left-arm orthodox Santner and leg-spinner Sodhi were predominantly used to take the ball away from the right-handers.

The skipper, who bowls off spin, came on early to bowl an over to left-handers Usman Khawaja and David Warner. His objective was to prevent the Australian batsmen from enjoying the luxury of working the ball with the spin off their pads.

Mitchell McClenaghan earned man-of-the-match against Australia after Williamson recalled him for the penultimate over. The left-armer, who took two wickets while conceding only three runs in those crucial six balls, explains the rationale behind Williamson's smooth anointment.

"Brendon had missed a few tours over the last couple of years, but it's been pretty seamless. Kane has an incredible cricketing brain, and he's been a leader in the team for years. He's got that much respect and the same aura as Brendon. Guys follow and trust him."

Intuitively, Williamson has also sought Ross Taylor's advice on-field as the team's senior professional. Taylor has liberally distributed that knowledge and endorsed the team plans, like using the tweaking trio against India.

"It was a credit to Kane and Hess [coach Mike Hesson] for first coming up with the plan, and having the guts to go through with it," Taylor said.

Williamson also has an instinct for tapping into the mindset of the average Kiwi fan, as he mentioned earlier in the season when outlining his unofficial manifesto.

"We want to be engaging with the public. One way is to go out and sign autographs, take the odd photo, and maintain those relationships as normal Kiwis.

"Many kids want autographs from New Zealand sports teams. That was certainly the case for me. I suppose when people want your autograph you think, 'that's a bit odd' but you put it into perspective and make the effort because it makes a difference."

As is Williamson.

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