Cricket West Indies president Ricky Skerritt has assured West Indies allrounder Andre Russell that the board is "not at war" with him and the regional selectors will not be "vindictive" after the allrounder opted out of the recent T20I series in New Zealand.
Recently, Russell raised eyebrows by turning up to represent the Colombo Kings in the ongoing Lanka Premier League, having declined initially to play the T20Is for West Indies in New Zealand. Even Phil Simmons, the West Indies head coach, expressed surprise stating it was "news" to him that Russell was playing in Sri Lanka.
In a chat with Jamaica-based TV network SportsMax TV this week, Russell cleared the air over why he decided to turn down the offer to play in New Zealand when chief selector Roger Harper called him in October, while the player was representing the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. Russell revealed he had explained to both Harper and West Indies' white-ball captain Kieron Pollard that his "headspace" was "messed up" while moving between biosecure bubbles, an environment he described as close to being "in prison."
Russell emphasised that playing for West Indies "comes first" to him and he had even approached Harper during the IPL about reversing his decision to travel to New Zealand. The chief selector said he was "sorry" as the squad was already picked.
Skerritt now has said that selectors will not "punish" Russell. "I have said clearly that West Indies cricket is not at war with Andre Russell. Skerritt told i955fm, a Trinidad-based radio station last weekend. "Andre Russell has a family to feed. He has whatever his own needs are and I don't question what his needs are."
It is not the first time Russell featured in a T20 franchise tournament while West Indies were playing a bilateral series. In August 2019 Russell withdrew from the T20Is against India and instead participated in the Global T20 Canada tournament. However, CWI chief executive Johnny Grave had told ESPNcricinfo at the time that playing in Global T20 Canada was part of Russell's rehab after the allrounder had ejected out of the 2019 World Cup due to a knee injury.
Russell last played for West Indies in the T20I series against Sri Lanka in March. "I must, however, be cognisant of the fact that Mr Russell spent two years out of cricket and I'm sure that at his age, he has every right to pursue whatever financial rewards he can as a brand and as a(n) extremely outstanding athlete," Skerrit said. "Now, will Mr Russell meet all the criteria for selection going down the road? Only the selectors could decide [that], but they will not punish him by not picking him.
"If they are not picking him, it is because they have decided that he is not the right person for the team on that particular occasion. But because he turned down the opportunity [to play in New Zealand T20Is] on this occasion, it does not mean he will not be available or not allowed to play for us again in the future, at least as long I am president. I would fight that battle very, very vigorously."
Russell is one of the several Caribbean players to have refused a central contract, and has instead featured predominantly in the T20 franchise circuit. However, he has not lost his desire yet to play for West Indies, and Skerritt said that the selectors would pick him on merit.
"The selection policy is documented. It is very clear on what the selectors have as criteria for selecting players for representing the West Indies. But one of the things that is also very clear as a matter of policy is that we do not use the selection route to punish players or be vindictive against any player as in the past, which was scary to say the least."
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo