'Russellmania' leaves bowlers cowering in fright

Watching Andre Russell furious batting in the IPL this season is like being part of a George Lucas inter-galactic adventure film which leaves one dizzy and reeling with non-stop, incredible action.

Sixes have exploded from Russell’s bat on all grounds against all opponents in a fusillade. Such has been the frequency, power and range of his strokes that even big-hitters like Chris Gayle, David Warner, Hardik Pandya, Rohit Sharma, Shane Watson and MS Dhoni have looked pedestrian in comparison.

Some figures here may help understand this season’s ‘Russellmania’ better. In eight innings so far, the burly West Indian has scored 377 runs – the most for KKR – at a whopping strike rate of 220.46.

I’m not done with the stats yet. In these eight innings, Russell has hit 39 sixes and 23 fours which makes it 326 out of 377: an incredible 86.4 per cent of the runs coming in strokes that reached the boundary line or were hit over it!

Mind you, this scorching rate of scoring is not because of one or two ‘freak’ innings. Rather, this has been the tenor and tempo of his batting in all matches. Every knock has been a blitzkrieg, leaving bowlers cowering in fright.

Most of these knocks have also come when his side has been in dire straits, making it even more noteworthy. Russell has been unfazed by reputation of bowlers or match situations, batting only in overdrive, and doing it magnificently.

Friday night against RCB, for instance, he came in to bat with his side tottering at 79 for 4 in 11.5 overs. Reaching the target of 214 seemed impossible at that stage, but Russell slammed 65 off a mere 25 deliveries (strike rate 260), and RCB won by only 10 runs.

It was exactly this kind of brutal hitting that prompted former West Indies captain Brian Lara to tweet, “Windies Team For World Cup @Russell12a and any other 10,” a sentiment that was echoed by another former captain, Sir Viv Richards.

Of course, both Lara and Sir Viv were being a tad hyperbolic. But their exuberance found an echo in the new West Indies cricket administration which that players who were at loggerheads with the earlier regime and not part of the team would be considered for the World Cup.

While it can’t be pleasant news for other teams that they might now have to confront the likes of Russell, Gayle and Kieron Pollard – perhaps even Sunil Narine – it adds great heft to the tournament and makes the West Indies formidable challengers.

Ironically, Russell’s brilliant form hasn’t been particularly rewarding for KKR who have lost 5 of their 9 matches played yet. But that is because other stalwarts, Dinesh Karthik, Chris Lynn and even Robbie Uthappa, have been below par.

Nevertheless, Russell’s presence makes KKR arguably the most dangerous side in the league. He’s now expressed a desire to bat higher – no. 4 preferably – to allow him more deliveries. In his current belligerent mood, this could mean further mayhem.

In the wider sense, Russell’s success this season raises the question where batsmanship in T20 cricket is headed and what becomes of bowlers in this format? Do they have a future at all, or will be reduced to an appendage?

Seeing his exploits, Russell is becoming the prototype of the gargantuan striker that every team will aspire for in T20 the future. The high backlift and follow through of his strokes, quick reflexes, intrepidity, athleticism, timing and sheer power make it very tough for such a batsman to be contained.

Mind you, he’s a wicket-taking bowler and brilliant fielder too which is often overlooked because of his thunderous batting. All young players watching him will want to be all-rounders like Russell.

Of course, not everybody has the DNA which makes him such a powerful sportsman, but even 70-75 per cent of his capacity would mean proliferation of batsmen who strike the ball like lumberjacks.

Already, par scores in the IPL have gone up from 140-150 in the inaugural year (2008) to 165+ plus this year. In the foreseeable future, this could be nudging 200.

What can be done to make it less nightmarish for bowlers, the contest more evenly balanced between and ball? I have no clear answer, but ensuring that the boundary is of a minimum 75 yards would at least be a start.

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