There’s a saying “The best way to lead is to perform’’ and the soft-spoken gentleman from New Zealand, Kane Williamson has done just that in this year’s IPL.

It’s an irony that a batsman who is ranked among the best four batsmen of his age wasn’t even an automatic choice in the team that he, now, finds himself leading. Sunrisers Hyderabad made the best of the IPL auctions earlier this year where they had almost assembled two first-choice starting XIs but the one-year ban handed to David Warner in the aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal spoiled the party for the Sunrisers.

They were suddenly staring at a monumental void because David Warner had been the X-factor of their line-up who had transformed the team into a superpower since getting the captaincy ropes in the 2015 season. So, Kane Williamson, who was not sure of a place in the starting eleven in the first place, was handed over the captaincy ropes to try and fill the big boots of Warner.

There were never any doubts regarding his batting capabilities but his T20 international strike-rate which hovered around the 120 mark was the reason which restricted his chances in the previous editions of IPL. But with Warner gone, Sunrisers needed the reassuring presence of Williamson in the squad to bring the stability in their batting line-up which looked a bit on the lighter side as compared to their world-class bowling arsenal. Then there were also apprehensions regarding his ability to inspire the team in that fire-brand manner which was the hallmark of the Warner era.

Williamson is no novice to the tactical nous as he is the captain of his national T20 side and has a fairly decent record of 17 wins from 33 games played but his gentlemanly behaviour foxed almost everybody into believing that he will not be able to match Warner’s aggression in the batting as well as in the captaincy.

There have been instances in the past when extremely talented cricketers couldn’t succeed in the captaincy role in situations when they were expected to carry the whole team with their performances and the legendary Sachin Tendulkar serves as the best example for this reference who didn’t have a fruitful journey as a captain despite all his exploits with the willow. But Williamson was not the man who would succumb to such pressure situations instead he took it as an opportunity to ground into silence his T20 critics once and for all.

The campaign opener against Rajasthan Royals served as the perfect trailer to the bigger picture that unfolded as the tournament progressed. The star-studded batting of Rajasthan Royals was restricted to a paltry 125 for 9 in 20 overs to send caution to the other IPL teams about the strength in their captain’s tactical nous and their bowling machine’s capability. Sunrisers registered a comfortable 9-wicket victory in that game and that too inside sixteen overs. That opening encounter boosted the spirits of the Hyderabad side and started a dream run which made them the first team in the competition to make it to the playoff stages.

In their first eleven games, the orange army, as the Sunrisers are popularly referred to, lost only two games and registered nine emphatic wins which also included the successful defense of paltry totals like 118, 132, 151 and 146. In fact, no team was able to beat them while chasing their total before their last game against Chennai Super Kings which they lost by 8 wickets. The man who stood at the forefront of all these stellar achievements was the captain himself who raised the bar for himself and registered back to back winning performances with his willow.

His brilliant execution with the bat and on the tactical front was the backbone of this solid campaign of the Sunrisers. After 12 games in the tournament, his run-tally stands at a whopping 544-run mark which has come at a very good average of 60.44 and includes seven fifty-plus scores, the most by a batsman in this year’s competition. Interestingly, his strike-rate in this tournament is almost 135 which is in stark contrast with his T20I strike-rate which hovers around the 120-mark. This jump in the strike-rate reflects his great understanding of what is required of him in the absence of David Warner. Warner’s IPL strike-rate hovers around the 142-mark and though Williamson hasn’t gone belligerent like Warner used to do, his consistency with the bat has ensured a superb run for his team in the tournament. His commendable efforts to fill in the aggression void can be gauged by the fact that he has the highest tally of sixes for his team, a feat that one usually doesn’t expect from him. His 18 maximums in the competition are way ahead than Shikhar Dhawan’s 9 which are a distant second in the list.

His stellar performance with the bat infused a great deal of confidence in him which is rubbing off in his captaincy. He has been exceptional as a leader with brilliant field placements and bowling rotations. He dispelled the myth that he can’t be as aggressive as Warner on the captaincy front and his fielding moves like placing a slip as late as in the fifteenth over to gobble up a catch from Kieron Pollard are a testament to this fact. His commendable bowling rotation ensures that he usually has the services of almost all his bowling options as late as the sixteenth over. He has been hyperactive in the field too as his electric fielding serves as a perfect compliment to the great bowling efforts of his bowlers.

So, after 12 games into the campaign, Sunrisers find themselves as the first team to qualify for the final-four round and it’s their captain Kane who has ticked all the boxes on the personal front to them to the top of the points table. His performance this season will go down in the history of IPL as one of the best emancipation stories as he has successfully broken the stigmatic chains that surrounded his batting and leadership before the start of the competition. Hopefully, he continues his brilliant run and leads the Orange Army to its second IPL glory.