@swaris16 5 minute read
Andre Russell is yet to fire in the 2023 IPL, scoring 107 runs from seven matches. Sarah Waris looks at what has been going wrong for the T20 legend.
In the world of franchise cricket, where loyalties matter for little and players are perennially on the lookout for financial advancement, Andre Russell’s 2020 statement that he would “love to be at KKR till his last IPL” instantly made him a favourite in Kolkata. Though fans had to wait three years to watch him bat at Eden Gardens owing to the pandemic, they did not forget his promise of allegiance, and he was accorded a shining reception when he walked out to bat against the Royal Challengers Bangalore this year.
The chants lasted just a solitary ball as he swung hard at Karn Sharma’s leg-break, leaving the Kolkata Knight Riders reeling at 89-5 in 11.3 overs. It was dismissed as a one-off for the man who had mesmerised the crowd the last time he played at the venue in 2019, scoring 311 runs in seven home games at a strike rate of 222.
But Russell followed that duck with scores of three against Sunrisers Hyderabad and nine against Chennai Super Kings in the next two matches in Kolkata, which have led to disillusionment.
Overall, Russell has an average of 21.40 this year with a strike rate of 141, his worst since 2014. Barring a fighting 31-ball 38 not out against Delhi Capitals, he has lacked fluency, and – perhaps – even game awareness.
Against Gujarat Titans, KKR were 154-4 in 16 overs when Russell walked out to bat, with his side needing 51 in four overs. He fell second ball, trying to pull a googly from Rashid Khan and under-edging. His was the first wicket in a hat-trick, and it was not off the greatest ball bowled by Rashid.
Against SRH, he once again fell to a leg-spinner – Mayank Markande – trying to swing at a ball that he could really have played anywhere. Chasing 229, KKR slumped to 96-5. Though they made 205 in the end, a few big blows from Russell could have seen a different result.
Mohammed Siraj’s spell against Russell in the 2021 IPL is significant for a number of reasons. Siraj had often been at the receiving end of online trolls before a turnaround in 2020, scripted a remarkable turnaround against a batter who had clobbered him in the past.
In 2019, Russell’s onslaught against Siraj ended with the latter being taken off the attack for bowling two beamers in an over. It was the mighty ‘Dre Russ’ against a youngster, who stood no chance up against the nonchalant confidence of his rival.
Two years later, with KKR needing 44 off 12 runs and Russell on strike against Siraj, fans expected an encore, but there was no workaround to Siraj’s yorkers as Russell struggled to dig them away. Siraj conceded a solitary run in the 19th over in a memorable outing as he earned a well-deserved redemption, but for Russell, it was symbolic of his sad decline.
Since 2020, Russell has averaged 24.7 while striking at 158. The numbers do not highlight his woes at first glance, but a deeper look will give a clearer idea. In 36 innings since then, he has faced 20 balls in an innings only nine times and has made 40 with a strike rate over 150 on seven occasions.
He has failed to reach 15 on 19 instances (more than half). While that can be justified by his high-risk-high-reward role, he has probably been failing too often even for that. Interestingly, he has not scored off 43.7 percent of balls he has faced – up from 36 percent from the 2016-19 phase.
Are KKR playing him in the right position?
Russell’s lack of big scores in the recent past has to do with waning reflex, but the management is not clear of blame either, for consistently shying away from allowing him more deliveries than they do. It is not a recent trend.
Russell slammed 510 runs in IPL 2019 at a strike rate of 205 and an average of 56.67. None of his teammates came within 100 runs of his tally or averaged 35 or struck at 150. Yet, despite struggling top and middle orders, Kolkata kept pushing back Russell’s entry, sending him at No.5 or below 11 times, including seven times outside the top five.
Chasing 214 against RCB that year, KKR were 33-3 in five overs when Shubman Gill was dismissed, and the packed Eden Gardens watched in dismay as Robin Uthappa, at No.4, played out 20 balls for nine runs. By the time Russell walked out, 135 were needed off the last eight overs, and his 25-ball 65 was not enough in the end. They fell 10 short.
Russell was not amused: “I believe that (I should have batted at No 4)… Honestly, I think sometimes you have to flexible as a team. Looking at the makeup of our team, I would not mind going to bat at No 4, when I am at the crease, Virat Kohli is going to bowl his best bowlers to get me out. And those best bowlers will have less overs remaining in the back end.”
He went out to bat at No.3 against Mumbai Indians a few games later and struck a 40-ball 80 not out, showing what he can do up the order. However, since then, Russell has batted in the top five a mere seven times despite the top order striking at 117 in the powerplay overs – the worst among all teams.
This year, Russell has batted at six and seven thrice each and has even come out at eight against Delhi Capitals, who reduced KKR to 50-4 in 8.2 overs. KKR eventually made 127 as Russell played a lone hand with a 31-ball 38 not out.
Yet, while KKR’s planning seems questionable, Russell has been assigned identical roles in the past and has scored at much quicker rates. His decline to get big scores of late, thus, indicates deeper issues.
Russell has just four fifties across T20 leagues since 2022, with a high score of 38 not out in his last 11 innings. A reliable bowler at the death in the IPL, he picked up 28 wickets across 2021 and 2022 – but has bowled only 5.1 overs in IPL 2023 as question marks loom over his fitness.
Sunil Narine, KKR’s other trusted overseas player, has not had the best IPL season either. He has gone for 8.68 an over so far – his most expensive in an IPL season. Carrying two out-of-form cricketers has hurt KKR, and they have now lost four on the bounce.
KKR have backed loyal cricketers in the past. A number of their current support staff members have been their former cricketers. But in the end, it is the results that matter, and it is time some tough decisions are taken.