There was a period in 2019 when, to adapt a phrase, T20 was Andre Russell's game, and everyone else was just trying to play it. He had long been one of the most coveted picks on the circuit, with his brutally clean hitting, 90mph bowling, and athleticism in the field. But, for a few weeks at the IPL, Russell was like a console player who had suddenly levelled up.
His exploits with Kolkata Knight Riders - 510 runs and 11 wickets - won him the Most Valuable Player award. His tally of 52 sixes was 18 clear of the next (Chris Gayle), and not far off Gayle's IPL record 59, in 2012. Yet it was Russell's ability to overhaul seemingly impossible targets that set him apart.
To continue with the gaming theme, it was as if he had switched into Beast Mode. In the second match of the tournament, with Kolkata chasing 182 to beat Sunrisers Hyderabad in front of their home crowd, Russell smashed 49 not out off 19 balls; they had needed 53 from 18, but walked off victorious, with two to spare. The IPL had never seen anything like it.
This was no one-off. In Bangalore 12 days later, Kolkata were in the same position: 53 needed from 18. Russell had made one off two, then hit seven of his next 11 for six, bringing the scores level with an over to spare. He finished unbeaten on 48 off 13, at a vertiginous strike-rate of 369.
His season was studded with such contributions: 48 off 17 against Kings XI Punjab; 62 off 28 against Delhi Capitals; 65 off 25 in the rematch with Royal Challengers Bangalore (this time in defeat); 80 not out off 40 against Mumbai Indians. The old-fashioned notion of getting your eye in was jettisoned. Russell came out of the blocks as if the blocks didn't exist, a 100m sprinter materialising at full speed halfway down the track. It was enough to win him a part in West Indies' 50-over World Cup plans, although knee problems scotched his chances of making an impact.
In part, Russell credited his rise to the lessons learned while serving a one-year anti-doping ban between 2017 and 2018, the suspension triggered after he missed three tests.
"I changed my mentality since I got banned," he said. "I was slacking off. I was big. I was lazy. I wasn't practising hard. I came back stronger, leaner, more muscular. I'm hitting the ball effortlessly for six."
That was certainly how it seemed. Overall in 2019, Russell played 46 times across five major leagues, scoring 1,080 runs, with 101 sixes and a strike-rate of 182 (in successful chases, that rose to 222). The next best for anyone with even 750 runs was 156, by AB de Villiers. There were 43 wickets and 23 catches as well. No wonder the rest were left in his wake.
The Leading T20 Cricketer in the World
2018 Rashid Khan (Afg)
2019 Rashid Khan (Afg)
2020 Andre Russell (WI)