Professional cricket has often looked almost too easy for Andre Russell. His natural athleticism and coordination lend him acrobatic fielding ability, the capability to ease in off a short run and still hit high speeds, and an eye like a dead fish with the bat. Nobody has a higher ODI batting strike rate. He won the T20 World Cup twice in his first five years in international cricket.
His soaring career was put on hold by a doping violation which banned him from competitive cricket last year. He didn’t test positive; he simply violated the whereabouts clause under the WADA code, and accumulated enough infractions to warrant a ban.
And so the jet-set T20 superstar was grounded for a whole year. And Russell, despite all his talents, has had to work. His social media has been filled with pictures of him in the gym, getting back to match fitness. His determination to maintain an elite performance level even after a year outside the game stands out. Even as last night’s performance seemed a spontaneous combustion, there was significant toil behind it.
Russel hammered 88* from only 36 balls, the highest score by far by a batsman coming in at No.7 or lower in the IPL. He ransacked West Indies teammate Dwayne Bravo for three sixes in a row, delivering the most experienced death bowler in the world his worst ever economy rate in his long T20 career.
Even though he came in at five down and the Kolkata lineup is set up for him to do so, there is a sense that Russell may be destined for such inevitable success this season that he gets pushed up. There is still a sizeable road ahead if Russell is to re-establish himself as a bankable player, not just a prodigious talent. A national team recall would be the ultimate manifestation of this, a sign of his investment into consistency and ambition. The first ball he bowled in this IPL, following his breathtaking batting, reared off a good length and left Shane Watson flabbergasted and completely beaten.
Russell is a rare cricketer, born into excellence out of the famous Jamaican sprinting tradition, and his confidence, focus, and fitness should be the concern of every fan who enjoys watching good cricket.
Image: KKR Instagram