Andre Russell has the hardest job in the Indian Premier League. He's got to finish with the bat, start with the ball and then finish with the ball for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Every one of these situations is a high pressure one. There simply isn't any let up. But none of it seems to faze Russell. In fact, it's quite the opposite. He appears to revel in it.
"I'm a true all-rounder," he told the IPL website after Kolkata Knight Riders beat Kings XI Punjab on Wednesday night at the Eden Gardens. "You have a lot of all-rounders who bowl at 130. I aim to bowl at 150 and then hit big sixes. So, at the end of the day, I'm just trying to raise the bar as high as possible."
To paraphrase Jedi master Yoda, Russell did not try to raise the bar against KXIP; he did raise the bar, showing he can be as deadly with the red cherry in his hand as he can be with the bat. After KKR had posted an underwhelming total of 164, Russell opened the game with a tight two-over spell in which he took the wickets of Marcus Stoinis and Manan Vohra. He bowled a tight off-stump line, giving the batsmen little room to swing their arms, which made them try to force the pace, only to mistime their shots and offer tame catches instead. At that point, his figures read 2 for 3 and Kings XI looked dead in the water.
But Punjab have their own master blaster in Glenn Maxwell and as he stormed his way to 68 from 42 balls, it seemed even Russell would not be able to save KKR from their second home defeat this season. But Maxwell tried one big shot too many and was given out LBW to Piyush Chawla in the 16th over.
An over later, with 35 runs to get from 18 balls, it looked, again, like Kolkata had done enough. Russell had the ball and he bamboozled David Miller with his first two deliveries before the batsman hit a waist-high full toss straight down long-on's throat. Superman had struck again and now had figures of 3 for 3.
But you don't get to be Superman without facing adversity. Axar Patel doesn't have the aura of Maxwell or Miller or Russell. The sight of him is never going to send a bowler's legs wobbling. But with two swings of the bat and two consecutive sixes, he rocked Russell and KKR.
Just like that, KXIP needed only 22 from 12 balls. The match was wide open once again.
Russell told the IPL website that he went up to Morne Morkel between overs and told his new ball partner to leave him 12-15 runs to defend. He had a score to settle. "I enjoy bowling in these moments where I either I can win the game for my team or if it goes the other way, I learn from it and take positives from it," Russell said at the post-match press conference. “" enjoy the load and just want to go from strength to strength."
There was no question of this one going the other way as Russell did go from strength to strenth. He had learned from the way Sandeep Sharma kept him and Yusuf Pathan quiet with a succession of yorkers in the last over of KKR's innings. He fired one in to Gurkeerat Singh, who could only dig it out and send it straight back to Russell, who snagged the ball, turned around and knocked the stumps down, with Axar stranded out of his crease.
Russell thumped his chest and roared with pleasure. The crowd roared along with him.
Another run-out followed off the next ball and then with nine to get from two, another Russell yorker slammed into Swapnil Patel's right leg and up went the umpire's finger. KKR had won the game and the crowd went nuts.
One ball later, the formalities were complete. Russell juggled the ball with his feet in celebration before Yusuf came over and embraced him in a bear hug. The smiles on both their faces were as wide as the Howrah bridge. Russell finished with 4 for 20 and took possession of the Purple Cap as the tournament's leading wicket-taker for good measure. There's simply nobody like him in the Indian Premier League or any other league around the world.
Sorry Chris Gayle, but Russell is now the most exciting player in T20 cricket.
Updated Date: May 05, 2016 16:36 PM