From leading his team to the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, to amassing a mountain of runs in pressure situations, Kane Williamson bows out as Test captain as a modern great.
The 32-year-old finishes as New Zealand’s most successful Test captain, winning 22 of 40 matches at the helm, as well as registering eight draws and suffering just 10 defeats.
Throughout the tenure, his work with the bat, under the burden of captaincy, has remained world-class.
Williamson averaged 57.43 in Test cricket across six years and 65 innings, up from his average of 49.23 when not leading the side. Those numbers are skewed considering his young introduction to Test cricket, though his 11 centuries and 14 half-centuries have been pivotal in New Zealand's rise from mid-tier Test nation to a world force.
Williamson betters Stephen Fleming (eight centuries) and Brendon McCullum (six) for Kiwi captains, even with the former having 70 extra innings to his name. When looking abroad, of those to walk out 65 times or fewer (the number of innings Williamson had as captain), only Australian greats Don Bradman (14 centuries in 38 innings) and Steve Smith (15 centuries in 64 innings) stand above him.
Martin Crowe is the only other New Zealander to average more than 50 as captain, and again, one needs to go abroad to find adequate comparisons. Of players to lead their side for 40 Test matches or more, only Brian Lara (57.83) usurps Williamson, with the right-hander edging the likes of Greg Chappell (55.38), Virat Kohli (54.80), Peter May (54.03) and Imran Khan (52.34), among other legends of the game.
In his own era, Williamson’s name is in the conversation as one of the game’s greats. Of those to lead their side in the same six-year period as Williamson, only Smith’s average of 61.43 betters Williamson (minimum 10 matches as skipper). When opening it up to all Test batters under the same 10-Test criteria, only Marnus Labuschagne (60.82) and countryman Daryl Mitchell (62.73) fare better.
Though it’s Williamson’s leadership in the field that arguably demands more respect, ensuring the playing group played a brand of cricket that made New Zealand greater than the sum of its individual stars.
Williamson’s win-to-loss ratio of 2.2 is only bettered by India’s 2.411 in the same six-year period, and the side managed to win more Test matches than Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the West Indies, three sides that played markedly more games in the timespan.
After a sweep of Zimbabwe away in Bulawayo in 2016 to begin his tenure, Williamson claimed home series wins over Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 2016/2017 home summer, holding on to series wins against England and the West Indies in the next year. Williamson’s 89 and 139 in Abu Dhabi then helped the team to a famous Test series victory again Pakistan, with his individual performance making him a unanimous Player of the Match decision.
Though the run to New Zealand’s World Test Championship would probably be Williamson’s crowning moment in a glittering career as captain in the format.
The side started the campaign with a 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka, and the Black Caps overcame a clean sweep defeat to Australia before a home series wins over India, the West Indies and Pakistan to earn valuable points.
The Black Caps were perhaps slight underdogs before the WTC Final, though took the sting out of India’s batting line-up with a fine performance with the ball and in the field.
Williamson rallied the troops to bowl India out twice (217 and 170), before joining Ross Taylor to chase down a target of 139, making an unbeaten half century and watching his partner whip Mohammed Shami away to score the winning runs.
Looking back at Williamson's tenure, New Zealand coach Gary Stead heaped praise on the man leading the troops in the field.
“Kane’s guided the Test team through an immensely successful period which is testament to his ability to bring people together and work towards a common goal,” he said.
“He’s certainly led from the front with his own performances and that was very much the case during our push to win the World Test Championship.
“The Test team has continued to evolve and develop during his time and the fact we’ve been able to introduce new players and see them thrive almost instantly is a credit to Kane and his leadership."