His bowling was lightning, hitting incredibly frenetic, and fielding breathtaking. This was a player who would win a game with any of his three skills. Learie Constantine was quite a cricketer, an impact player before impact players were a thing. His batting wasn't quite allrounder standard, but when he made runs, they came at such a rate that they changed the direction of a game. And Constantine was one of the fastest bowlers of his era, even bowling Bodyline before it was Bodyline.
Andre Russell is remarkably similar to Learie Constantine. He is fast, his innings change the gravitational pull of matches, and he has endless fielding brilliance. Their first-class averages are also similar - both average 20 with the ball; Constantine averaged 24 with the bat, Russell 26. And like Constantine, to make the most of his talents, Russell has had to pursue opportunities outside the West Indies. For Constantine, league cricket in England, for Russell, franchise T20.
Russell is an impact player in T20, and he makes an impact almost all the game through. T20 can be split into six different sections, batting Powerplay, batting middle, batting death, bowling Powerplay, bowling middle and bowling death. Most players, even a few of the best ones, aren't used for half. Russell is a threat, a weapon, almost the whole game through.
When he bats, he's boomshakalaka. Using ESPNcricinfo's smart strike rate metric, which compares a player's runs with the match run rates and what was happening at the other end when he was batting, Russell's career smart strike rate is 215, leaving him as the only player with more than 1000 runs in T20 with a smart strike rate over 200. If you like standard strike rates, he's currently in second place on the all-time list.
The middle overs of T20 are rarely a time for men like Russell. Most of his ilk are sent down the order for the death overs, but probably because he asked, or maybe just because he was successful once or twice there, it's in the middle overs that Russell is at his best. From overs seven to 15, Russell strikes at 147 (smart strike rate of 183) and averages 33. The high-strike-rate lists for the middle overs are dominated by openers, because they get to those overs fully set, but even so, Russell is still sixth all-time for highest smart strike rate in that period. While other batsmen are cashing in on good starts, or knocking the ball around, he's slapping the ball around like it is the death.
In the major T20 competitions, fewer than a third of players who have scored over 300 runs at the death have a smart strike rate of over 183. When T20 is at its slowest, Russell is scoring quicker than many people do at the death.
But when T20 declares party time, he doesn't get all that much quicker. He's still sixth on the all-time strike rate list for the death, with 189, which is immense but not all that much quicker than his career mark. Russell is almost always batting like it is the death, unlike other batsmen who scale up, he's already in the death mindset no matter where he bats. (He almost never bats in the first six: 63 of his 3671 runs have come in the Powerplay.)
As a bowler he has the talent to bowl at any time. He bowls 25% of the time in the Powerplay, 52% in the middle, and 23% at the death - one of the most even spreads in T20 cricket.
In the Powerplay he's not a big swinger of the ball, but he goes at 7.3 runs, which is bang on average for the World T20 during his career, and he takes a wicket every 21 balls, which is almost four deliveries better than the average bowler. Given wickets are worth more at the top, that makes him a superb Powerplay bowler.
In the middle overs his smart economy rate is 9, which is high for that period, but he strikes every 24 balls, which is average. Remember, this is the period when the fewest wickets fall. Having dashed at the new ball, teams are consolidating or trying to keep things ticking along. In games where you have set a low total, it's in those middle overs that wickets are important, and captains often turn to Russell to make something happen. He doesn't do it well enough, but he's certainly not terrible at it.
At the death his smart economy rate of 9.5 makes him slightly more expensive than average, but he takes a wicket every 9.5 balls, which means that - setting aside the fact that wickets are almost worthless in that period -he's striking 3.7 deliveries more frequently than the average. It's an incredibly handy thing to have a bowler who can take death wickets, even if he is half a run an over more expensive.
To recap, there are six phases of a T20 game and Russell can positively affect five. And that doesn't even account for his fielding.
He can hit against all kinds of bowling - right-arm seam, left-arm seam, fingerspin (whether it spins in or away). It's only legspin - not left-arm wristspin; he smashes that too - that he struggles against, though he's getting better against it.
He bowls decently against right-handers, but he's slightly better against lefties. His strike rate of 146 in the first ten balls makes him the eighth best. His slower ball is hard to pick, his bouncer has caught some of the best batsmen by surprise, and his ability to attack when other batsmen won't, or can't, is extraordinary.
Russell's only weaknesses are legspin and batting in the Powerplay. And he was suspended for a drugs code violation. When he is on the field, there's almost nothing he can't do.
There is a tendency to look at him as a natural phenomenon, a gifted athlete who does his thing, but there's way more method than madness. There are plenty of players, like Corey Anderson, Carlos Brathwaite and Ben Cutting, who can score at ridiculous rates at the death, even quicker than Russell, but they score nothing like him up the order. And some bowlers are better than Russell in certain sections of the game, but not that many are as useful in all three phases.
Russell is a real T20 allrounder. There are a lot of players who are called allrounders in T20 cricket, but most aren't - usually their batting or bowling is limited, sometimes both, meaning the impact they have on matches is limited. Or sometimes their positive batting or bowling are affected by their weaker skill.
Over the last three years, Russell faces 10.6 balls a game and bowls 19.1 deliveries a game. The combined total of 29.76 makes him the 17th most used player currently in T20. There are plenty of players who bat longer, or are more dominant in certain periods of the match, but there are only a handful who can regularly change so many parts of a game.
Twenty-six balls doesn't seem like much, but Russell is a front-line bowler and batsman in T20 cricket, and over just more than 10% of the game, few players make as much impact as he does.
Stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman