Why Russell couldn't resist the temptation to pull

All-star of the match

Andre Russell has two World T20 titles with West Indies, two Caribbean Premier League titles with Jamaica Tallawahs, a title each at the Big Bash League, Bangladesh Premier League and Pakistan Super League with Sydney Thunder, Dhaka Dynamites and Islamabad United respectively. On Thursday, his unbeaten 25-ball 49 delivered a knockout blow to Rajasthan Royals and brought him within two wins of a maiden IPL title with Kolkata Knight Riders.

Struggling with a hamstring injury that rendered him just "70% fit" at the start of the season, his movements have largely been hampered, especially while having to stretch forward while playing spin. But it was his typical stand-and-deliver methods that reaped the rewards - four of his five sixes were off the pull shot in the arc between fine leg and wide long-on.

It was a shot Russell later revealed he didn't want to play coming into the game, because he thought the zip on the Eden Gardens deck could make Jofra Archer, capable of bowling regularly in the high 140 kph range, a massive threat. After being unable to execute the stroke off the second ball he faced, he decided to put it on the backburner. But he couldn't resist the temptation for long. A free hit duly arrived two balls later and he swatted the full toss over wide long-on for six.

He later revealed the plan: "We knew how important Archer was to their attack. I planned in my head, 'Russ, don't pull' but he bowled short, and I tried and missed. But he bowled short again, and when the no-ball came, I thought 'Russ, it's your lucky day'. Yeah, the free hit was a gift. That set the tone, gave me the start. Starting with a four or six boosts your confidence."

The six would be the trigger for a late onslaught, building on Dinesh Karthik and Shubman Gill's middle-overs acceleration after KKR had slipped to 51 for 4. This was a damp surface where the ball was stopping on the batsmen. But the ferocity of Russell's strokes, made possible by a strong base and clarity of mind, allowed him to smash 49 of the last 65 runs KKR scored. They walloped 87 off the last seven overs and the momentum was firmly with the hosts.

The wow moment

By the 19th over, Russell was in his element. But it wasn't blind swinging. Archer attempted a slower bouncer outside off, towards the fifth stump. Russell had already backed away and opened himself up to swing over deep midwicket. But the ball gripped the surface and slowed down even more. Now Russell had two options: go through with the pull or readjust. In a split-second, he changed his stroke by holding his shape, lining himself up properly to flat-bat that over long-off. It was a shot straight out of a tennis court, but the extra option he gave himself in a jiffy was the highlight.

The numbers

  • Russell's Smart Strike Rate - as per ESPNcricinfo's new T20 metrics to add context to performances - was 275.60, and his innings was worth about 20 runs more than the scoreboard showed.

  • Russell has scored 228 off 99 balls with 26 sixes while batting first this season. That's a strike rate of 230.30.

What they said

"The body's good. I've endured a lot of work behind the scenes, and the trainer has ensured that my hammy [hamstring] is 100%, which is why I've been able to stay on the field all through the tournament. I've been 70% [fitness overall]."
Andre Russell