custom dr dre beats headphones Andre Russell talks about T20 cricket
On November 13 last year, West Indies allrounder Andre Russell was playing his first match of the Ram Slam T20 Challenge. In the fourth over, South Africa and Titans batsman Quinton de Kock flicked Knights fast bowler Malusi Siboto high over mid on, where Russell was fielding.
It was never going to be a catch. Not even in Russell’s mind when he saw the ball fly off the bat as he walked in (“briskly,” he says) to save the single.
“After the ball went over my head I heard ‘Two, two, two,'” Russell recounted when he spoke to ESPNcricinfo this February in Dubai, where he played in the Pakistan Super League for eventual champions Islamabad United.
“They [batsmen] never thought I will get there. As soon as I heard that, I said, ‘I am going to the drop in zone as soon as possible.’ So I turn and I sprint. I just muscle down the field, focusing on getting to the ball. I look up, I realise I am close to the ball. I make two or three more power strides, stick my hand out, the ball just fell right on the tips of my fingers. As soon as I feel the ball, I push my hand out and I make sure I have it covered because I know I was going to fall. I did not want the ball to bounce out of my fingers.”
As the commentators gushed, Russell quickly stood up and folded his arms in front of his chest, as if to ask himself and the crowd: “Would you believe that?”
Russell has made pulling off stunning feats on the field his trademark. With the bat in hand he has engineered spectacular finishes in T20 leagues around the world, in which he is highly sought after. The IPL, the Big Bash, the PSL, the CPL, Ram Slam, Friends Life T20 he’s a marquee player in all of them. In 2015, his first proper year in the IPL, Russell finished as the Most Valuable Player in the tournament, when he played in every match for his side, Kolkata Knight Riders.
“You have to give credit to the hard work you put in,” he says. “I believe now that nothing comes easy. I can achieve a lot more from just working harder and make sure that whenever I cross the ropes, I can do well. I know my job is not easy. I have to bat, bowl and field, run from long on to long off. But I am always in the game. So it was good to get the MVP.”
Progress has been swift for Russell over the last three years. From a player with potential, he has become a must have asset. In the IPL, he was largely an unknown in his first two seasons, during which he played just seven matches for Delhi Daredevils. At the 2014 auction, Knight Riders were looking for an allrounder who could eventually take over the role performed by their senior player at the time, Jacques Kallis.
Russell, who had gone unsold in the first round, had a base price of Rs 60 lakh (approximately US$100,000 then), and Venky Mysore, the Knight Riders chief executive, ended up buying him for that sum.
During an interval in the auction, an official from a rival franchise walked up to Mysore and commented on the Russell buy: “Good luck managing him,” he said. Mysore, though, has had no cause for regret. “He has been one of the most fantastic guys in the dressing room,” he says of Russell. “He is absolutely one of the best allrounders going in this format. We also felt with his batting skills he could move up and down the order.”
In his first season at Knight Riders, Russell only played two matches, where he managed one wicket and two runs. A few months later, in the Champions League T20, he was to the fore in the thriller against Chennai Super Kings in Hyderabad. Chasing 158 to win, Knight Riders were sinking at 51 for 5 after eight overs when Russell joined Ryan ten Doeschate, the Essex allrounder, at the crease. The two turned the match on its head with a swift 80 run partnership that included a 22 ball 50 from Russell. His eventual 58 included five sixes and four boundaries, at a strike rate of 232.
He recounts another incident, from the last IPL. “I told him before a game [at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai], the straight boundaries are shorter but the side boundaries seem quite long. He said, ‘No ground is too big for me, maan.'”
“You can’t buy experience,” Russell says. “You have to earn experience and live it. The first two years I played IPL, I was with Delhi, and I play, like, seven games in two years. It is not like I could not do what I am doing now, but I was not getting a chance. If I was getting a chance with Delhi, I would maybe be a better player now because I would have learned more how to deal with failure, how to deal with success.
“So at that time, not getting enough chances, I just know that, all right, I am happy to be part of the team. I learn how to be a team man and support the team and make sure that each guy that is in the playing XI is comfortable. I am on the bench, run up with water, whatever.
At Knight Riders, Russell found himself at home, at peace. “I was in the zone that I want to be in. I know, even if I fail, I am going to play the next game. That is the kind of trust if players get it more often, you will maybe see a lot of spectacular things from the player.”
Mysore had no second thoughts about holding on to Russell. “Tell me how many are there who can give you all three with match winning ability, particularly with the bat?” he asks. “With the bat, Andre Russell is a type of player I think any opposition will fear that he can turn the game from any stage because it is a matter of a few hits with his power and his capability and his skill.”
Many gifted athletes are good at more than one sport before they focus on one. Russell was an ace at football, where he started as a forward before switching to defensive midfield. Once, when his team did not have a goalkeeper, he volunteered to stand in.
“We were losing games because easy goals were being scored. I said to the coach, ‘I can keep.’ He said, ‘No, who is going to play in the field? You have to play and score goals.’ If you start to keep, we have no one to score, so we are going to draw. I said, ‘We must, and can, score at least one goal per game, and I will make sure no one scores against us.’ So I started goalkeeping from there.”
Russell got a scholarship to play football at Clarendon College. They had a good team and he did not get enough game time. Hungry to play, he approached the coaches, who asked him to bide his time.
One day, after football season, he tagged along with a friend who played cricket for the school’s senior team. “Me and two other guys were playing our own little game on the side, with a little, soft ball.
“I was hitting the ball all over the place, bowling fast. The coach was watching me. I didn’t know that. He called me and asked me my name. Then he asked why I don’t come and play cricket. I said, ‘But those guys bowlin’ fast and I am scared.'”
Russell was about 13 or 14. He told the coach he would try but he would take it slowly. He played Under 14s for the first year and then moved to the U 16s. By the end of the first year at that level, he was playing for the senior team as a wicketkeeper.
“There was no specialist wicketkeeper in the squad. The first game we played, we had a keeper who let 38 40 byes go, and I remember that as I was bowling! So I tell the coach that I am going to keep. He was fine. I watched [Adam] Gilchrist and few other keepers that I liked, to see how they kept, catch a ball with style and the right technique.”
Kirk Harris, who played U 15 cricket for Jamaica “saved” Russell by relieving him of the gloveman’s duties, which allowed him to move his focus back to fast bowling.
Many were surprised he could bowl. “The year before Harris came, I went to a Jamaica U 19 preparation camp and I went as a keeper. The second year, I went as a fast bowler. The trainer was setting up some cones. He knew me as a keeper previously. He said to me, “Russ, go and get your keeping stuff. We are going to stay on this base and catch the ball.” I said, no, no, showing him my bowling boots. I told him, ‘I am a bowler now.’ I surprised everyone.”
He focused on running before going to school and for a half hour after school, doing lots of weights, working out in the gym all to bowl as fast as he could. Eventually he made it into the Jamaica U 19 side. He also continued to be goalkeeper for Bowlers FC.
When he was 17, Russell was asked to attend a Jamaica U 20 camp by the president of the local football federation. Around this time he also received a fax from the Jamaica Cricket Association asking him to play for the U 19s for a second year.
A week later he received a message from the Jamaica Football Federation saying he was in the 30 member squad for the Jamaica U 20s. When it came to making a choice between the sports, he told the school’s principal that he wanted to play cricket.
The football officials continued to call, and failing to reach him, they rang his grandmother. “She said, sorry, he wants to play cricket,” Russell remembers. “I had to tell them I was already in the Jamaica U 19 camp. I had to tell them something. That was where everything started.”