If you were to randomly type in the phrase- India vs West Indies T20, Google would promptly guide you to the semi-finals of the World T20. Back in 2016, this was a contest that didn’t bring Wankhede to its feet. Rather, it splintered India’s most ostentatious ground into tears and agony. It pushed fans to leave imprints of nails clawed on the benches.
Though the honours belonged to Lendl Simmons, who overcame a Virat-special and used some luck to shock India with his 82, it was Andre Russell who lifted West Indies from the throes of a visible loss to a comprehensive victory.
In a game that belonged to big-names, capable of producing sizzling strike-rates- Kohli, Sharma, Gayle, Carlos Brathwaite- it was Russell who produced a palpitating 20 ball 43 at 215. In the land of snake-charmers, Andre Russell spurted a venomous streak.
You wouldn’t have chewed off your nails had this been a Gayle or Pollard. But Andre Russell’s final stage cameo meant that the West Indies could cajole lovers of a format that breeds on instant gratification with prolonged gratification in having a man come in at number 7 and tear out attacks.
It wasn’t that Andre Russell had been a new entity. Lest it be forgotten that he’d been around even in West Indies’ 2012 World T20 squad in Sri Lanka. Even so, then he was one among the many frolicking figures dancing to the fireworks in the aftermath of a Sri Lankan snubbing. But it could be argued, on the grim Wankhede evening Russell cast himself as one among the cohorts of Caribbean swashbuckle- a producer of pyrotechnics in cricket’s favourite matinee show: T20s.
But while similar quick-fire, punchy cameos manifested in a tonnage of useful runs, albeit yielding short-successes in T20 leagues around the world, it is also frightening to note that 2016 happened to be the last Russell appeared for Windies in 20-over cricket.
An year of being suspended for doping violations took away 12 months of an enticing ‘what would’ve been’.
Fans in the Caribbean, fed on shambolic ODI, Test scorecards wondered if one of the bright feathers in a plumage had been lost. Others, desperately awaited a comeback.
And in here lies the perplexing enigma of a cricketer who’s yet to deliver his ODI potential, especially after seducing fans with efforts like a stunning 13-ball 42 against Pakistan in 2015 World Cup that provided West Indies a rare moment of joy in another ordinary tournament. Apart from wondering if that heroic effort could’ve been one of World Cup’s most easily forgotten cameos, cricket’s thinking audience wishes to know if Russell can deliver the goods in ODI cricket.
Of course unless we forget that it is but of paramount importance for a West Indies- who battled with associates in qualifying for 2019- who languish at the bottom of ODI rankings.
What impresses you about Russell is that he’s extremely entertaining and unbelievably agile on the cricket field. Bowling full, he can both go for runs and make up for some by extracting wickets of yorkers and mistimed hits. He can dive full length, run, chase and is great of his return bowling. This is pretty much a report card faring straight A grades for a fielding side that often seems lazy to shake a leg.
But even as Russell hasn’t yet had a vitriolic stand off against a board that could perhaps write a thesis on mis-governance, his promise leaves you gasping about possibilities if he’s made an ODI mainstay for a side blushing at having found the prospect of an Evin Lewis, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Rovman Powell, Kemar Roach and, Kesrick Williams.
At 30, Andre Russell isn’t ageing. But depicts both abrasiveness and excitement. While his muscular flat sixes kiss benches in long grounds everywhere- Wankhede to Wanderers, his bowling leaks as many runs as his bat collects in the limited overs its given a chance to put on a whack. Unless, of course, you forget how he was taken to pieces by De Villiers in a monstrous vein at Jo’burg. Russell went for 78 off 10.
Yet, the Jamaican promises years of experience even in truncated formats like T20s that are but a patch on ODIs.
Should the West Indies sense this as an opportunity to make a hard slasher feature in with talents much younger than him who’ve been cutting their teeth and perhaps in the process of growing a wisdom tooth in ODIs?
But nothing might worry those more who identify in a solid West Indian potential the romanticism associated with ferrying the game to great streaks.
The Andre Russell we see today, decked in purples, seemingly essaying a purple patch on his T20 comeback is taking the IPL by storm. The question is, are the West Indian selectors interested in him? Moreover, is he interested in being a journeyman for his West Indies?