Delhi Capitals' Chris Morris had said that one needs a "thick skin" to take on Andre Russell. "It's a fine line when you're bowling to Andre Russell. He's a gamechanger," Kings XI Punjab coach Mike Hesson said after Russell had made a match-winning 17-ball 48 against them last week. Commentators have run out of adjectives to describe his shots and veteran cricketers go "where can you bowl to him", on Twitter.
On Friday, it seemed like Royal Challengers Bangalore had ignored all of those warnings when Russell walked out to the middle, with Kolkata Knight Riders needing 67 off 26 balls.
First, he had a quick chat with his captain Dinesh Karthik in the middle. He took strike only in the next over, with the game well within Royal Challengers' grasp. The first ball he faced was a short one that whizzed past his head. The crowd, in anticipation of something dramatic, let out a gasp. Nothing significant happened in the next five balls either, but between practically every ball bowled, Kohli made some changes to the field. Russell just looked around.
He later said he was thinking only in terms of sixes. "The thought process was just to try and get as many sixes as possible. Sixes will bring down the (required) run rate, will bring down the runs (needed), that's how my mindset is," Russell told team-mate Carlos Brathwaite on iplt20.com. "I was telling DK (Karthik) that 'once we wait for the fast bowlers at the back-end, I know they're going to miss their length'. Pressure is going to be on - small ground, good wicket. The mindset was just simple, 'Try and hit as many sixes as possible'.
"I practice just for these moments. From ball one, I start hitting out everything because I know at some time I'm going to be in that situation. Tonight, I didn't even notice what was going on in the scoreboard. All I did was look at one area, and how many runs we needed."
The madness started from the sixth ball he faced. And it was all just wham from there. He finished with seven sixes and a four to level the scores, and Shubman Gill then finished it off. Kohli, who is usually quite animated on the field, just kept a straight face. Most of the home supporters had left the stadium by then.
The crowd, hopeful of their team's first win of the season, had witnessed two of their team's best batsmen rise to the occasion earlier in the evening. A score of 200-plus on the board probably comforted them, but little would they have known then that they had signed up for Russellmania. While Knight Riders were on course in the first ten overs of the chase, they lost momentum after two quick wickets. But it took just a few minutes of Russell to overshadow Kohli and de Villiers' efforts and extend Royal Challengers' misery. It was his fourth 40-plus score in as many games, all made at strike rates only he can attain, and his third man-of-the-match award already this season.
Russell knows he's special, but he doesn't over-state that fact.
"I know I'm special. I know I don't make too much out of it," he told KKR media after the match. "I make sure I remain calm because, you know, once you're doing well you're going to struggle a bit at some point. So at the end of the day, I make sure I keep this momentum going. I don't take anything for granted. I'm not going to say 'I made 40 here in the last game and I'm going to continue from where I left off'. It's a new game, you've to approach it differently.
"When you're in your zone and have your momentum going, you don't stop, you keep going. When I wake up in the morning, I know it's another opportunity to make myself better in life, and to try and best what I've done before."
Which is all fine, but if you are a bowler - where do you bowl to him? If you bowl a low full toss, he can swing it hard over midwicket. If you keep it short and wide, he can dispatch it over cover. If you bowl full, he'll go straight over your head. His IPL team-mate Kuldeep Yadav, known for his ability to fox the best, says he is "glad" he doesn't have to bowl to Russell. Piyush Chawla, another team-mate, admitted that he doesn't bowl much to him in the nets. "But if I bowl to him I bowl wide outside off stump or on his legs so that he doesn't hit straight," Chawla said.
Russell was not going to reveal his secret to big-hitting, but on being asked where he gets his strength from, he said: "To all the fans out here: I don't eat anything special. It's just all in the heart and mind. My mind's free."