Consider there was a new one-off T20 league that opened anywhere in the world with no restrictions on number of overseas players with all cricketers available to participate. Consider this league had a draft with every team starting from scratch. Under such circumstances, you’d think that the team that gets the first pick will, in all likeliness, select Andre Russell.
Russell is as close to the perfect T20 cricketer you can get. While batting, he can hit the big shots and he has been pretty consistent doing so in recent years as well. With the ball, he will give you at least three overs most times than not – bowling at a good pace, he is a reliable wicket-taker. While injuries might have hampered his career, he continues to be a fine fielder. With such an array of skills, it’s no surprise that many consider him to be the most valuable T20 cricketer in the world currently.
While Russell has countless match-winning performances for various teams in T20 cricket to his name, perhaps his best all-round performance came in a Caribbean Premier League (CPL) game in 2018.
Russell had starred in Jamaica Tallahwahs’ CPL triumph in 2016, eventually being named as the Player of the Series after impressive all-round performances during the season. But he missed the following edition as he was in the midst of a one-year ban due to an ‘anti-doping whereabouts’ violation.
Despite the absence of Russell in 2017, Jamaica reached the playoffs but couldn’t match the achievements of the previous season and went out in the Eliminator.
Russell was back for CPL 2018 and he was named the captain of the team. Their first game of the season was a tough one – away against defending champions Trinbago Knight Riders. Coming into this match, the team from Trinidad and Tobago had already played a game this season, having thrashed St Lucia Stars by 100 runs.
Russell’s decision to bowl first certainly didn’t seem like a good call during the first half of the match as the Knight Riders’ batsmen were on top for pretty much their entire innings.
Early on, it was the partnership between Chris Lynn and Colin Munro which set the platform for the hosts – a brilliant 98-run stand for the second wicket from just 55 deliveries. This partnership was, in fact, ended by a splendid diving catch at cover from Russell.
While Lynn was dismissed four short of a half-century, Munro top-scored with 61. Brendon McCullum, who was nearing the end of his professional career, carried on from where the duo left off with a 27-ball 56.
By the time Russell came on to bowl his third over – the 20th of the innings – the Knight Riders were 212/3. It already looked like a winning score and the Jamaica captain, himself, had been expensive so far. In two overs, he had conceded 27 runs.
Things went from bad to worse when McCullum hit Russell for a boundary off the first delivery of the final over. The Knight Riders had now made the highest team total in a CPL innings. It seemed like a bleak situation for the visitors.
There was some respite for Russell and co. off the next delivery as McCullum mistimed a full toss and was caught. Then, the right-arm pacer managed to disturb the stumps via the inside edge of Darren Bravo’s bat. Bravo had also played a marvellous little innings, scoring 29 from just 16 deliveries.
With just three deliveries left in the innings, there was no way that Denesh Ramdin was going to block out the hat-trick delivery. Instead, off a short-pitched ball, the wicketkeeper-batsman attempted a maximum but was caught on the midwicket boundary. In what had been a disappointing day so far for the Tallahwahs, Russell’s hat-trick seemed like a silver lining, but it ended up not even being Russell’s most valuable contribution of the day.
Chasing a target of 224 was never going to be easy and when Jamaica found themselves 41/4 at the end of the Powerplay, you would have thought there was no way back for them – 99 times out of 100, it would have been the case. Ali Khan was magnificent with the new ball for the hosts, taking three of those wickets. And off the first delivery after the fielding restrictions had ended, Johnson Charles – who had got off to a start – had to head back to the pavilion.
183 runs needed from 83 deliveries with just five wickets in hand – surely, the result would be in Knight Riders’ favour? Things almost became worse for Jamaica when Russell mistimed the first delivery he faced. Fortunately, for him and his team, the catch was dropped. Yet, it looked like mission impossible for Jamaica, even with Russell in the middle.
At the end of the eighth over, the away side got a bit of momentum. Having been hit for a four off the fifth delivery of the over, pacer Shannon Gabriel erred with his line and length, bowling two high full-toss no-balls. The first of those found its way to the boundary without Russell even having to play a part and the second was dispatched into the crowd for a maximum.
From thereon in, there was no looking back for Russell as he took apart the Knight Riders bowling which included the likes of Sunil Narine, Dwayne Bravo and Fawad Ahmed. The Jamaica-born allrounder went on to record the fastest CPL century of all time (40 deliveries).
Russell was well supported by Kennar Lewis who made a 35-ball 51, with the duo adding 161 runs for the sixth wicket. With Jamaica having lost a handful of wickets so early on, the importance of Lewis’ knock cannot be understated.
In the end, Jamaica got home with four wickets and three deliveries to spare with Russell unbeaten on 121 off 49 balls, having hit six fours and 13 sixes!
What happened next?
Both Knight Riders and Tallawahs qualified for the playoffs. While the former went on to win their second successive title, the latter once again crashed out in the Eliminator.
While Russell didn’t have a great CPL 2018 with the bat, he ended as the tournament’s fifth highest wicket-taker (14). Since then, he has only seen his stock rise in T20 cricket, winning the Most Valuable Player award in the Indian Premier League for the second time in 2019.