‘I want to do what Kieron Pollard does’

Andre Russell has transformed into a world-class all-rounder in the last 12 months. Nishad Pai Vaidya spoke to Russell about his growth.

There was never a doubt over Andre Russell’s humungous talent. Since his international debut in 2010-11, Russell was regarded as an asset given his stable bowling, hard-hitting batting and electric fielding. However, consistency was always an issue; he was too flashy and seldom produced impact performances. It all changed last year during the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). Russell has since gone on to become one of the best T20 players in the world.

Consider this: eight out of his 10 T20 fifties and 56 out of his 108 wickets have come since then. In this period, he also went on to the Player of the Tournament in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2015 and has also delivered some hard-hitting knocks in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Behind that revival is hard work in the nets. To hone his potential, Russell has put in the hours in practice to perfect his skills and improve as a cricketer.

Match simulation forms an important part of Russell’s training regime. “I have been working on game situations in the nets. There are situations where one needs 15 an over and one can’t get them in singles alone,” he says.

He is often seen as the man who would smoke it around the park from ball one, but Russell explains the method to his supposed madness. “If I get eight overs, instead of hitting from the first ball, I have a couple of deliveries as sighters. If, say, three overs are left, I score quickly and attack from ball one,” he explains.

Take his performances in the IPL 2015, for instance. His three fifties came in run-chases when the Kolkata Knight Riders needed someone to stay in the middle and keep up with the required rate. Against the Kings XI Punjab at Pune, Kolkata were struggling at 60 for five in the eighth over while chasing 155. Russell walked in and carted 66 off 36 balls to take them home comfortably. In a tough run-chase of 166 against the Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata were in a precarious spot at 57 for three in the tenth over. Constructing a sound partnership with Robin Uthappa, Russell hit a quick-fire 52 to put them on course. Finally, in another dramatic game against Punjab, Kolkata needed over 100 in the last nine overs when Russell walked in at No. 6. He carted 51 off 21 to soothe nerves and get home.

Like his West Indies teammate Kieron Pollard, he wants the opportunity to bat higher. Though Pollard bats in the middle-order for most teams, he does get quite a few opportunities at the top. “When I watch him [Pollard] play, I feel I want to do what he does. He can bat long as he comes in at No 3 or No 4. He first gets settled,” Russell says. Perhaps a T20 hundred would be possible some day for Russell given a chance to bat more time.

The other important aspect in Russell’s growth has been his bowling. He seems to bowl quicker than earlier and hurries onto the batsmen. “I have been working on my strength in the last few months and have been enjoying it. Whenever you enjoy something, you do well. You need to work hard. I like to rush the batsman and mix it up with my pace,” he says.

In the CPL 2015, Russell’s team Jamaica Tallawahs did not make it through to the second semi-final. Nevertheless, Russell can look back on a good year and build for the next season. Given his transformation in a year, one can expect him to dominate and grow in stature. He could well be the next T20 big draw like a Chris Gayle.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)