How to deal with Russell

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Andre Russell is the best offensive player in the Indian Premier League. He has the highest strike rate in IPL history out of all batsmen to have faced at least 125 balls, the highest strike rate in this IPL season out of all batsmen to have faced at least 12 balls and the most sixes with 25 – seven more than that of second place, Kieron Pollard. Against Chennai Super Kings, hampered by a regular fall of wickets at the other end and cramp in his right arm, Russell scored at a strike rate of 113.63 (50 off 44). No other innings that he has played this season have been at a strike rate slower than 221.42 (his other innings have been at strike rate of 257.89, 282.35, and 369.23).

Getting through him has never been harder than in this IPL. He has only been dismissed three times, and the only time in which he has been dismissed cheaply was in the Super Over between KKR and Delhi Capitals. A Super Over, of course, is not a circumstance that one can set out to reach, coming as it does after the teams are tied after both innings have been completed. A more realistic ambition for fielding teams is to force KKR to bat Russell earlier than they would like. The earliest point in which they send Russell on a night in which they have not lost more than four wickets is the eleventh over. Lynn, Narine, Uthappa, Gill, Rana, and Dinesh Karthik are all preferred in the first ten overs. But KKR has lost five wickets in the first ten overs of an innings on two occasions this season. Russell had to do a repair job with Karthik against Delhi, which they did, and then he joined Gill against CSK but found no one who could hang around and score a rate of at least one a ball. KKR lost both games; they are also Russell’s slowest-scoring games of the season. The former is still at a rate that would be beyond most other T20 batters; the latter played in conditions which are more fielding-team friendly than other grounds in India, at a much-reduced rate. Both featured a slow start; at the ten over mark, he was 1 off 3 and 0 off 6 respectively.

If the others do bat well, well enough to allow KKR to bat Russell when they like, then the data still supports trying to dismiss his predecessors at the crease. In his IPL career, Russell has played 55 matches, a dozen of which he has not batted in. KKR’s win against Rajasthan Royals is the only member of the sextet in which he was not required to bat, as Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Robin Uthappa, and Shubman Gill chased down 140, a result replicated in ten of the other eleven matches. The exception was when KKR lost to Gujarat Lions in 2016, and it is hard to see how Shakib Al Hasan and Yusuf Pathan lost the game by batting for too long at Russell’s expense. KKR lost 4-24 in 5.5 overs before they steadied and hit their team to 158. The last quarter of the innings, the period in which substitution would have been most justified, saw 60 runs. It is clear, therefore, that it was the failure of other batsmen that led to what turned out to be an insufficient total to defend.

So, opposition teams should keep getting Russell in there, without regard to the time of innings. Even the best fail on a regular basis, especially in a game that relies so much on luck as well as skill. And Russell is no exception.