Andre Russell's career as a limited overs' cricketer has bloomed as exceptionally as his musical sojourn. The rap artiste staged a rescue act for Kolkata Knight Riders and helped the defending champions out of a hole against Kings XI Punjab in a repeat of the 2014 IPL final.
This is how Russell's rampage unfolded in what was the last of Kings XI Punjab's three home games in Pune:
When Russell took guard, Kolkata Knight Riders had lost three wickets in seven balls without adding a run. From 60 for 2, they had slumped to 60 for 5 and the target of 156 suddenly appeared a tall task.
When the Caribbean allrounder joined Yusuf Pathan in the middle, his immediate target was to deprive Sandeep Sharma of a hat-trick. The medium-pacer had got rid of skipper Gautam Gambhir and Dutch allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate, who was unfortunate to have been adjudged lbw when the ball had ricocheted on to his front pad off the inside edge of the willow, off successive balls. Russell safely negotiated the hat-trick ball with a gentle push to midwicket.
From then on, the memories of the Knight Riders' memorable victory during the 2014 Champions League Twenty20 against Chennai Super Kings might have resurfaced for Russell. Chasing a target of 158, Knight Riders had been tottering at 51 for 5 in nine overs. Russell's 25-ball 58, and his 80-run partnership with ten Doeschate set up an amazing victory for the Knight Riders then.
If the Knight Riders had to return to winning ways, Russell had to repeat his heroics at Uppal.
The hallmark of a courageous sportsperson is his ability to outshine the best from the opposition. Russell gave a perfect example as he targeted the two best Kings XI bowlers. Sandeep Sharma had been bowled out and it was left for Mitchell Johnson and Axar Patel to tighten the Kings' grip on the game.
Patel had already bowled a tidy over to Russell and as a result, at the halfway stage, the Knight Riders required 88 runs to win. Russell made his intent clear of not letting the asking rate get out of hand by going after Johnson in the 11th over. His twin back-foot strokes raced to the boundary, thus forcing Kings XI captain George Bailey to take his trump card out of the attack and replace him with the miserly Patel.
But Russell was doubly harsh on the left-arm spinner. While Johnson's over had gone for nine runs, Patel's went for 19, all scored by Russell. 4, 6, 4, 2, 2, 1 was how Russell pulverised the young spinner. Then on, it was always going to be Knight Riders' game to lose.
Having raced to his maiden IPL fifty with his eighth four off the first ball of the 16th over to get some purple and golden flags flying in a packed house at Gahunje, Russell celebrated the landmark with a huge six over long-on off Thisara Perera.
If the Kings XI had to stop the crowds from trickling into the parking lot, they needed to strike at least once, if not twice, in no time. And Perera got Russell to mistime another low full toss, Glenn Maxwell called loudly to all his surrounding team-mates only to drop a regulation catch at mid-on. Instead of an addition to the wickets column, the total rose by a run. And with 17 required off 25, all of Kings XI's hopes of staging a comeback were up in flames.
The support act
Sensible is a word seldom associated with Yusuf Pathan's batting. Saturday night was one such rare occasion. With Russell taking care of the scoring, he needed someone to hold one end up.
And Yusuf was the unlikeliest candidate to do the job. A burly striker of the ball, Yusuf has on numerous occasions needlessly thrown his wicket away. But he restrained all his natural instincts and played second fiddle to Russell. His alleviation appeared so natural that despite batting on 4 off 10 balls, Yusuf didn't play a lofted shot. In fact, the only lofted shot Yusuf played during his innings was a deft touch off Anureet Singh over short third-man for a four.