Kane Williamson stood with hands outstretched as an accurate throw from Martin Guptill ricocheted off a diving Ben Stokes’s bat and went for four in the 100th over of a sublime World Cup final at Lord’s on Sunday. If the ball had just found the keeper’s glove, or even if it deflected at a less acute angle and went to the short third man fielder, England would have needed seven runs from the last two balls, but the overthrow made it three from two. A tie, then a tied Super Over later, England had won the World Cup through the quite irrelevant measure of having hit more boundaries over the course of the game.
After scoring 27 per cent of his team’s runs over 11 games and also embodying the very philosophy that brought his team to the final, no one had more right to be disappointed, angered, disillusioned and frustrated by that overthrow. But Williamson put his hands down and got back to the business of leading his team with a steady hand. He repeated that when marshalling his fielders in the Super Over and, even when all was lost and all of Lord’s was celebrating, Williamson’s composure held when he talked to the TV cameras minutes after Guptill was run out trying to complete the World Cup-winning run.
For those who followed Williamson through the World Cup, this acceptance of ‘uncontrollables’ -- a word he repeated on numerous occasions before and after the epic final -- should not be surprising. While for most captains talking about focusing on their own team’s strengths rather than the opposition’s is little more than a soundbyte, Williamson lived that mantra and his team followed that example. It is this acceptance of not being able to control everything in the wide scope provided by a 50-over match that brought New Zealand to within inches of winning their maiden World Cup.
On paper, their team was formidable, but Guptill’s indifferent form at the top of the order put pressure on the middle order. It was none other than Williamson who bore the brunt of that pressure and with the continuing frailty at the top of the order, reassessed conditions and realities expertly to give New Zealand a fighting chance time and again.
While a loss of form or injuries would have had most captains cursing their luck, Williamson just recognised the reality of the situation. Instead, he hit an unbeaten 106 to secure a four-wicket win against South Africa and in the very next match, scored 148 against West Indies to set up a five-run win.
Even so, by the time the semifinals rolled around, not many would have given New Zealand a chance of winning against India because the Black Caps had scraped through on net run rate after losing their last three league games. But there again, Williamson scored 67 in New Zealand’s 239 for eight -- a total that seemed sub-par but, in another example of Williamson’s pitch-perfect assessment, proved to be very competitive as New Zealand won by 18 runs.
As captain, he focused on his team’s strength -- their superb seam bowling attack that could take wickets in English conditions and cover up for the oft-misfiring batting lineup -- and reassessed accordingly. His team followed by example. Even as Williamson departed for 30 in the final, the rest of the batsmen did not panic and just focused on getting a total that they believed their bowlers could defend through age-old wicket-taking methods, regardless of how strong England’s batting was.
It was an uncontrollable.
Although heartbroken, Williamson graciously accepted the player-of-the-tournament trophy at the end of the match. It is not just Bangladeshis who have asked why Shakib Al Hasan -- with the greatest all-round performance in World Cup history -- did not win the prize. But for fans of cricket, there is rich justice in recognising a player who tapped into the essence of the game, understood and accepted its cruelties, scored the runs he could and in the process, led his team to within inches of the World Cup. Williamson may not have the coveted trophy, but his example over the last month and a half has been a triumph for cricket.