In the ever-changing dynamics of the Indian Premier League, Andre Russell has been a constant for Kolkata Knight Riders.
Season after season, the franchise has retained the big-hitting all-rounder from the Carribeans, often leading to several questions. There have been phases when Russell, or Dre Russ - as he is fondly called by his team-mates - has looked off-colour, but even then, the Kolkata franchise has given him a longer rope.
Friday evening at the Wankhede Stadium was one such moment when Russell lived up to the expectations and once again proved why he is so special for the franchise.
Pursuing a moderate total, Kolkata was struggling at 51 for four when Russell walked out to bat, with Sam Billings joining him at the other end. The Jamaican took some time to settle in, and eventually ended up hitting eight monstrous sixes to score an unbeaten 70 off 31 deliveries to guide the team home with more than five overs to spare.
Facing Kagiso Rabada, Arshdeep Singh, Rahul Chahar was never going to be an easy affair, but Russell knew what’s to be done in such a tricky situation. “Feeling awesome, this is the reason why we play the game. In that position, I know what I can do,” Russell told the host broadcaster after the game.
Being part of the KKR set-up for years, Russell knew that communication will be the key in pursuit of the chase, and that’s why he made it a point to inform Billings that he would go for the shots and ensure that there were no further slip-ups.
And, that plan certainly worked. While Billings held fort at one end, Russell went hammer and tongs at the Punjab Kings bowlers. “It was good to have someone at the crease like Sam, who can rotate and help us stick through the tough time. Once I started sweating, I just said that I am gonna go. I backed my ability and that's what I did tonight. I am happy to bring the team over the line…” he said.
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While Russell went on a rampage, Rahul Chahar and Harpreet Brar failed to come up with a plan to stop him. “I knew we were the two guys who'll definitely look to get a partnership. I told Sam, ‘listen, let's just bat a few overs and see what happens.’ But we had to attack earlier because the left-arm orthodox wasn't spinning the ball and nothing was happening…”
Even Billings admitted that the plan was to hang in there and then allow Russell to play his shots freely. The strategy worked, and banking on his experience, Russell knew that if he can hang in there, crossing the finish line won’t be an issue.
“So, we decided to take charge from one end and look to get singles from the other end. Chahar was bowling extremely well, it was gripping as well. We didn't want to take much (of a) chance against him. We knew it'd get easier,” he said.
While fielding during the last game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Russell had a ‘sore shoulder’, which led to uncertainty over his availability for the game against Punjab. However, Rusell not only impressed with the bat, he also had some memorable moments with the ball.
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“I am happy to do whatever the team requires. I am looking to bowl in the death. If the captain wants me to bowl one in the powerplay, I am more than happy to do that but we have a good amount of bowlers. We have a few guys that can actually chip in one or two as well…” he said.
“I know in some games I won't be bowling four but if at least I bowl two overs, I can feel a part of the game and feel like an all-rounder. These things do happen, some games it's gonna be easy and I may not bowl a ball…”
Over the last few years, fitness has been an issue for Russell - which has often impacted his performance - but overcoming the challenges, the Jamaican has always made it a point to leave a mark.
At times, his efforts have been successful, while there have been days when nothing worked in his favour. But everytime, Russell knew he tried!