Kane Williamson - The Savior of the Orange Army
Williamson's credibility in the shortest format was under scrutiny, but the way he reciprocated puts a lot of doubts to bed.
They say cricket is a gentleman's game and players like Kane Williamson are flagbearers to that saying.
You'll come across many cricketers in life, but there will be a few who will stick in your memory perpetually. This Kiwi genius is definitely one such player.
A few months ago, when Virat Kohli was romping past the Proteas in South Africa, and Steve Smith was raising the standards in Test cricket, many felt Joe Root and Kane Williamson are lagging behind their "Fab 4" companions.
It's imperative for a cricketer to be a little hard on himself to reach the pinnacle and to do so, one has to re-invent and re-discover new ways of scoring runs. Watching Kane Williamson bat this IPL made me believe that this guy can do absolutely anything.
His status as a Superstar in ODIs and Tests needs no justification, he has proven it time and again.
But his credibility as a T20 batsman was under scrutiny and Sunrisers Hyderabad handing him the captaincy responsibility for the 11th edition of the IPL, was the opportunity he was waiting for.
Let's begin with his batting. Isn't he just amazing? Even when he clips the ball towards covers, or rolls his wrists to mid-wicket for a single, it looks so gracious to the eye.
Of the many cricketers, I've seen in the last decade or so, he's probably one of the best timers of the cherry, if not the best!
You will not be witnessing a 100-meter six from his willow, but every time he hits a boundary, it gives equal pleasure to that of an MSD monster or an ABD masterclass. Talk about upping the ante, the 28-year-old has done it big time.
On two occasions this season, against CSK in Hyderabad and against RCB in Bangalore, his contingent had a huge total to chase.
Although SRH lost both these games, Kane Williamson played sublime knocks which literally overhauled the agony of the defeat.
Chasing big totals, a team usually needs an aggressor and another player to anchor the former. Unfortunately for Williamson, the other batsmen have failed to assist him properly. He's been the aggressor, he's been the anchor and he's been doing an awful lot of good work to keep his side in the hunt.
13 innings, 625 runs, 8 half-centuries, 23 sixes, 140.25 strike rate - The numbers don't lie, do they? Any expert would've laughed if I had predicted that Williamson will amass these numbers before this season, but one has to applaud a fact that he's done this.
He's an astute reader of the game and him toying with the field placements and finding gaps for fun is a testament to that fact. You almost wonder if the bowling team is falling short of fielders, that's how good he is.
Captain leading from the front
The Sunrisers, according to many experts, were the winners of the IPL Auction 2018. They acquired some incredible talents and got all the boxes ticked, but David Warner missing out left a void in the side which many felt was good enough to drown them.
At this precarious juncture, Williamson steps in, focuses on what's in his arsenal, rather than repenting on what's missing, and takes the side all the way to the playoffs in the most dramatic way possible.
There were a few games when he literally was the "Player of the match" for the way he led the side.
The way he rotated his bowlers in the game against Mumbai Indians whilst defending 118 runs was monumental as that commenced a 6-match winning streak for the Orange Army. Right from the outset in that game at the Wankhede, he had a slip in place and till the final wicket was taken, the slip was still on.
A calm head at the helm in such critical situations can always be helpful and Williamson was as cool as an ice, or in cricketing terms, as cool as MSD.
The Sunrisers had some other close games against Rajasthan Royals, Kings XI Punjab, Royal Challengers and Delhi Daredevils. In each one of these games, let that be chasing or defending, this lad's contribution was just terrific.
Every captain has one go-to bowler and a lot depends on how the skipper uses him. For Kane, it's Rashid Khan, and time and again, we've seen the Afghan doing the job for the Kiwi. There was a bit of Williamson's brilliance in every wicket he's picked this season.
For the first time in their history, the Sunrisers will finish in the top 2 in the league. That's a colossal achievement for a side who many believed would finish in the bottom half.
Adapting to the shortest format after excelling in the other two is a little difficult perhaps. That's the exact doubt which made many question his ability to play T20 cricket.
Well, he's certainly proven that he has those nomadic qualities a cricketer is expected to have this generation.
He's not just answered his critics in a grandiose way, but also has proven that proper cricketing shots can still fetch you a lot of runs at a good pace.
"Kane" choke-slammed the bowlers in the most gentle way possible and we've seen it so many times this season.
It'd be unfair to not confess that watching Kane Williamson operate this season has been an absolute pleasure.
If he can steer the Orange Army to their second IPL title, this will go down as one of the greatest cricketing tales of all time.