Andre Russell Returns Home Knowing He Took One for the Team
Injured Andre Russell could only watch on from the dressing room as Carlos Brathwaite desperately tried to keep a sinking Windies alive against New Zealand on Saturday, 22 June. Chasing 292 for a win, the Windies had slumped to 164 for 7 and it needed a superhuman effort to get the team close. On that night, the side found a hero in Brathwaite but as he slumped on his knees in despair, falling just five runs short of the target, the emotions in the camp were all so palpable.
“It is heartbreaking to not get over the line,” muttered the big Barbadian star Brathwaite, who is just one of the many from Windies to ditch his country to play in various T20 leagues around the world. Caught in a pay dispute with the board, regularly turning down offers to play 50-over games whilst playing their trade in some new franchise that has been popped up, or lighting up social media with their colourful eccentricities off the field – the Windies stars have made little of pushing their country to the back-burner.
“It is a shame that our senior players are not interested in playing for West Indies,” former West Indian Carl Hooper had once commented. The upsurge of phenomenal players from the country (just ask any IPL fanatic to name 10 who have lit up the Indian stadiums in the past decade) has ironically been contrasted with the declining standards of cricket in West Indies. The land of Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding overlooks a bland future, and not many fireworks were expected from their World Cup campaign as well.
“For ten long years
We ruled the cricket world
Now the rule seems coming to an end…
Rally, rally around the West Indies
Never say never
Pretty soon the runs are going to flow like water
Bringing so much joy to every son and daughter
Say we're going to rise again like a raging fire.”
Standing true to the national anthem and rallying around their country in their need of hour, players like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Brathwaite made themselves available for selection for the extravaganza.
While it was 39-year old Gayle’s last attempt at glory, Russell – who has time and again claimed that his body is not fit to handle the demands of ODI cricket – too risked himself to “rally around the West Indies”.
Battered and bruised and often sidelined due to a wobbly left knee, the 31-year old, nonetheless was a force to reckon with in T20s, and recently, even in the T10 league. He hobbled his way to freak-dom in the recent season of the IPL while playing for KKR, and despite a spate of injuries to his wrist and his knee Russell emerged as the lone warrior.
And when he wanted to heal before yet another strenuous T20 season started, he agreed to play for Windies in the World Cup. The all-rounder had just played one ODI since November 2015, maybe to preserve his body for the shorter formats and leave his mark across the globe while he was still able to, nonchalantly sacrificed it all to bring the glory days back to Windies cricket.
It was no secret, though, that West Indies needed him. In his absence, the middle order had been unable to create an impact, averaging only 27.99 with a strike rate of 82.08. Twenty players had been tried between positions four to seven from 2015 till the start of the World Cup, but none even threatened to create the kind of impact that Russell could. The 31-year-old’s ODI strike rate hovers around the 130-mark after 56 games, and among the players tried in the last four years, only Shimron Hetmyer and Sunil Ambris struck at more than 100. The latter, however, has played only two games for West Indies.
The team, then, needed him. They needed him so he could bring that oomph factor back in the middle order. They needed him to replicate his IPL heroics with both bat and ball, and they needed him to turn Windies’ fortunes around so they could relive the glory days once again, albeit for a while.
Russell did not disappoint. Steaming in against Pakistan, bowling the sharp bouncers, getting Fakhar Zaman out first with a quicker ball and then sending back Haris Sohail with a shorter one, the Jamaican was on a roll. His 3-over spell had done the trick and though he could not contribute with the bat, it was a delight to watch Russell, attired in the maroon jersey, steaming in, jumping in joy as he sent back two crucial players.
That sight was witnessed twice over against Australia as he cleverly used a short ball to dismiss Usman Khawaja. By this time, the nagging knee had made its presence felt as well, but, like a true champion, Russell ignored the pain to come back and get Alex Carey off a gentle slanter outside off. Limping against England, he delivered a thunderbolt to Jonny Bairstow in the 11th over of the innings – a sharp bouncer that came on to him way too quickly that the batter imagined – before walking off the field.
He fell against Bangladesh, clasped his knee, groaned and moaned – but was up like a hero to pick up Soumya Sarkar’s wicket. He crossed the 141kmph-mark, gave very little room to the batters and varied his deliveries with shrewdness before he walked out in pain. That was the last we were to see of Russell in the World Cup.
He didn’t. He could have been out on the field when Brathwaite was striving to get two points against New Zealand. He wasn’t. In a situation Russell relishes, he was forced to stare helplessly as Windies went down.
Ostracised for putting franchise over country, Russell takes the long flight to Jamaica after being ruled out knowing that he took one for the team.
(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. She spends her hours gorging on food and blabbering nineteen to the dozen while awaiting the next Indian sporting triumph.)
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