Andre Russell inspires Deccan Gladiators to Abu Dhabi T10 title with brutal 90 not out
Reinvented as an opener, Russell dominates 159-run stand with Tom Kohler-Cadmore
Deccan Gladiators 159 for 0 (Russell 90*, Kohler-Cadmore 59*) beat Delhi Bulls 103 for 7 (Hemraj 42) by 56 runs
Once he gets going, there is quite simply no stopping him. Dynamic, powerful and with the ability to hit sixes at will; a revolutionary, a game-changer. Andre Russell has helped to redefine the scope of short-format batting in and of itself, with his ability to fuse his natural strength with the sheer level of skill that he has developed over time.
With an astonishing 90 not out off 32 deliveries, 'Dre Russ' saved his very best till last to secure a first-ever Abu Dhabi T10 title for the Deccan Gladiators in devastating style, as they thrashed the Delhi Bulls in the tournament's final.
Alongside Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who smashed 59 not out off 28 himself, the pair put up 159 without loss in their ten overs, with an exhibition-like batting display. There could have been no better moment to score the highest total of the T10 season, as they battered the ball all around the Zayed Cricket Ground.
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For the second successive day and the fourth time in the tournament, the Bulls fell short against a Gladiators outfit, led expertly by Wahab Riaz. Dwayne Bravo's side's wait for a first T10 title continues after another final defeat, to add to their loss in February.
For much of his career, Russell has played the finisher role better than anyone else. It took the Gladiators until the last game of the league phase of the Abu Dhabi T10 to recognise that the nature of the 10-over format meant that leaving Russell in the middle order risked wasting their single most valuable resource.
For nine of the ten games, Russell came in to bat at No. 3 or below. Yes, the Gladiators were winning, but their prized asset and his qualities were yet to be truly exploited. After 43 not out in the first game, scores of 0, 9*, 4, 3, 3*, 4*, 22 and 4 indicated of a man that wasn't really getting the chance to get going and do what he had done in franchise leagues all around the world.
On Wednesday against the Bangla Tigers, knowing that qualification into the play-offs was secured, they sent him in to open alongside Kohler-Cadmore. Together, the pair put on 128 but it was Kohler-Cadmore who took centre stage with 96. Russell played an uncharacteristic back-up role with 26 not out but Wahab hailed his attacking intent.
"It was about giving much more time and opportunity to someone like Andre [Russell]," he explained. "He's shown across the world that he's not just a batter who bats the last three or four overs. He may not have got many runs but his intent was there and at the end of the day, he puts pressure on the bowler because he is Andre Russell."
That fact alone was the difference on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi, as Russell epitomised exactly why he is revered across the cricketing world and exactly why the Kolkata Knight Riders chose to retain him ahead of the IPL auction.
On Friday night against the Bulls, with a place in the final on the line, Russell blitzed 39 off 14, before dismissing both Eoin Morgan and Dwayne Bravo to seal their place in the final. On Saturday, he went one better with a ruthless clinic of hitting, smashing nine fours and seven sixes.
There was no hint of mercy, not least for his fellow West Indians. Each of Bravo, Ravi Rampaul, Dominic Drakes and Romario Shepherd were sent all over the park; Drakes went into the final as the joint highest wicket-taker, but went wicketless and was ultimately dispatched for 33 off his two overs.
Instead, Wanindu Hasaranga took home the prize for most wickets, after picking up the prized scalps of Morgan and a well-set Chandrapaul Hemraj. That was after Odean Smith had made early inroads, getting rid of the in-form Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Sherfane Rutherford in his first over.
Smith is a 25-year-old who possesses Russell-like traits with his ruthless six-hitting ability, his knack of striking with the ball and not least, his Jamaican heritage. Tymal Mills was brought on by Wahab to perform the last rites and with the dismissal of Drakes and Bravo, he finished with figures of two wickets for just four runs in his two overs.
It was fitting that the man of the night, would have the final say. With a searing yorker off the last-ball of the Bulls chase, Russell cleaned up the stumps of Shepherd to start the party for the Gladiators. He roared with delight and his first embrace was a jubilant one with his captain Wahab, before he was lofted up joyously by his fellow teammates. "In a relaxed environment, you get to be you and express yourself," Russell said. Express himself, he did.
Michael Atherton once wrote that "if you were constructing a perfect prototype of a Twenty20 cricketer in a laboratory, Andre Russell, the Jamaican allrounder, would serve as an ideal template. He is physically imposing, a brutal hitter of the ball, a bowler of waspish pace and a brilliant all-round fielder". His finishing act to conclude Season 5 of the Abu Dhabi T10 certified his standing in the game as one of the all-time greats.
Aadam Patel is a freelance sports reporter who has written for BBC Sport, the Daily Mail, ESPNcricinfo, the Cricketer and other publications @aadamp9