Let’s put it this way - the Andre Russell of 2019 would have featured in the best IPL side, hands down, as the first all-rounder option but the Russell of 2020, right now, is racing against time to keep his place, as Sunil Narine is ready and fit to return to KKR’s setup. So what has gone wrong?
“Hard to say what's right when all I wanna do is wrong,” said the American songwriter-singer Prince, and now KKR are on the same lines.
After the brief showing in 2018, where the massive all-rounder scored 316 runs off just 171 balls, at a strike-rate of 184, the signs were alarming for bowlers from seven franchises and of course, KKR bowlers too in the nets. The big-man, Dre Russ or whatever you want to call him, was something never seen before in the IPL. Yes, there was Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo but none as ‘beastier’ and, at the same time, soft as Andre Russell himself. In simple words, he was a phenomenon that KKR preserved for their holier-than-thou approach, giving him the utmost luxury and protection.
Then came 2019, where he elevated himself to another level, destroying bowlers of all kinds - leg-spinners, slow left-arm spinners, medium pacers, right-arm pacers and the left-arm ones that seemingly yorked him. None were spared, as he went on to score 510 runs, more runs than Shreyas Iyer, Virat Kohli and Jonny Bairstow, all of whom batted in the top-order. Such was his audacity, which left his teammates in awe and the opposition in a dilemma. But during the course of that season, the alarming signs were ready and waiting, when he walked out to opine in the press conference that he must bat higher up the order at No.4.
Now, he had all the bloody rights to, he was the team’s top-run scorer and did the job more often than not at wherever he was batting. He was a beast, as already noted, and could easily lift the team out of trouble, like he was some sort of hulk in a crazy buster suit. And KKR budged in that request, to send him up the order. But in four innings, he only scored 74 runs, at an average of 24.57 and a strike-rate of 157.4 at No.4. It wasn’t a one-season thing - in 28 innings at No.4, which is more than a sufficient number to judge a batting calibre, Russell only has an average of 15.4, with a dot-ball percentage of 38.7 for someone who is indeed a fearsome striker.
If you were wondering what’s it got to do with average, strike-rate and blah blah, let me make it easier for you: would you rather want Andre Russell to score an 8-ball 26 or 9-ball 15? That would paint the right bloody picture. He’s talented, he’s fearsome and can clear any boundary in the world but he doesn’t quite have the abilities that a floater at No.4 requires - the ability to run between the wickets and more importantly, construct an innings. So sending him at No.4 isn’t quite the float to it but that isn’t the only problem. If you look at the resources that KKR possesses, it’s invaluable and if you are one of those salty fans, then you wouldn’t probably understand the logic behind sane-stuff.
Eoin Morgan, Captain Morgan or whatever saviour you call him, he’s the man who has to shoulder more responsibility. Now that he is made the skipper, it’s mandatory. He’s had enough T20 experience at No.4, for a number of franchises that he has represented, where he has scored 1663 runs, at an average of 25.6 and strike-rate of 125.1. True that the numbers are a bit underwhelming but given the fact that he shoulders more responsibility and has the experience of batting in that position, it would be slightly easier for him.
That is exactly what I meant by using the right resources at the right place. You can use two pens to even open up a screw but wouldn’t you rather prefer a screwdriver? In simple terms, using both Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell at the top was that move from the franchise. Karthik at No.4 is a good choice but Morgan at the same position is better, because of the anchors at the top - Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana.
While Rana has terribly failed this season, Gill hasn’t done much to justify his ‘golden’ boy tag, failing to take off after the slow and meticulous start. Siddhesh Lad has just played one game in the IPL, opening the innings, which makes his selection quite tricky and that would create more ruckus than it would solve for them. Now if that’s the approach the franchise wanted from Gill, then sending Russell at No.4 is a brain-wobbler, as it adds more pressure on the Jamaican to swing his wand, that we call a bat. If indeed they are using a floater-approach to the batting, then it should be between Russell and Karthik, who interchangeably can do the job. At No.5, the Indian batsman averages 28.6 while having scored 1314 runs, at a strike-rate of 126.6 with 34.2% of dot balls.
On the other hand, Russ has a dot-ball percentage of just 31.7 batting at No.5, a position lower down the order, which you can call a simple ‘demote,’ that yields a better return. An average of 33 combined with an experience of having played 52 games gives Russell the familiarity in the role. At 6, the strike-rate increases while the average decreases, a factor of the number of balls that he would get to face. If you indeed want him to play more deliveries, you would rather use him at 5, in a position that he is quite familiar with.
In the Nidahas Trophy, because of what Karthik is famous for, he batted at seven, facing just eight deliveries, which was enough for him to earn the tag of ‘hero.’ Well, when he was the skipper of the franchise, the cries on social media were pretty clear, it seemingly looked like he was forcing too much for the fans to like him, which is absolutely ridiculous and not true! In fact, it was his batting position which gave that impression to the fans. Since 2018, when he first started playing or captaining the franchise, most of his runs have come in at No.5, where he has scored 598 runs at an average of 35.2 and a strike-rate of 140.7, but as a utility, his best value comes in at No.6, where he strikes it purely at 214.3 while averaging 52.5, a Karthik that everyone seemingly likes and adores.
Now, he shouldn’t be playing for people to adore him but the kind of experience that he brings into the franchise and the team is unparalleled in the country. Almost like a luxury to KKR to have someone as experienced as him in the middle-order while also possessing someone handy like Pat Cummins and Andre Russell. In between Morgan, Karthik and Russell, KKR have a middle-order that no other team quite possesses, one that could win you any game across anywhere in the world, not just India or the Middle East. But not having them in the right place at the right time has cost them from time-to-time. And that needs to stop and needs to in time, for KKR to find their mojo back.