Andre Russell has ruled himself out of West Indies' first two T20Is against India starting on Saturday. The allrounder had only just returned to action after knee surgery but experienced "some discomfort" while playing in the Global T20 Canada and then expressed his unavailability to the West Indies selectors. However, only hours after a CWI press release had said this, Russell turned out to play for Vancouver Knights against Edmonton Royals.
Carlos Brathwaite, the West Indies T20 captain, launched a stirring defence of Russell in the pre-match press conference in Florida. "I think he's been knocked in the press a bit because of his injury woes. And I think it's easy for us to see him hobbling around the field and just take for granted that he's injured but we can also look at it on the other side and say he can be home, he could be elsewhere and not trying to play for the West Indies.
"And speaking for myself as captain of the T20 team and speaking for myself as Andre's friend, whenever we speak about playing for West Indies, that's always his main goal. And we've seen in the World Cup -whether he was 100% or not, it's debatable - but the fact that he wanted to be at the World Cup, wanted to pull on the shirt and wanted to perform for the people in the West Indies and his mates in the dressing room, I think, is testament to the person he is. And I think we need to start commending the fact that he actually tries to get on the park and stop lambasting the fact that he probably doesn't stay on it till the end of the 50 overs or the 20 overs.
"Even against my better judgment, I told him to sit out this series, but he really wanted to play, he really wanted to come and show off his skills and show off what he does in franchise cricket for the West Indies. Unfortunately, he took another knock and he doesn't think that if he comes here that he'd be doing justice to other people who could be here and are 100%. Obviously, he's a big loss, not only on the field but off the field. In the dressing room, in and around the team, he's a big character, very jovial and in my eyes, a leader in the dressing room as well. But obviously, if we need to get him ready for the Twenty20 World Cup, we have to do without him for a couple of series, I prefer that than pushing him in this series and making a long term injury."
This, incidentally, is not the first time something like this has happened. In late 2018, Russell missed tours of India and Bangladesh, with chairman of selectors Courtney Browne saying that Russell - as well as Sunil Narine - "are injured at this time". But when the first T20I against Bangladesh was played on December 17, Russell was playing for Somerset Cavaliers in the US Open Cricket tournament, a T20 competition, in its tenth year, played in Florida's Central Broward Regional Park.
With Russell absent, middle-order batsman Jason Mohammed gets to revive his West Indies career. "He [Mohammed] is a player with lots of experience in all three formats and - having done well for Trinidad & Tobago as well as Guyana Amazon Warriors," Floyd Reifer, West Indies interim head coach, said.
"It is not easy to the fill the shoes of someone like Andre Russell, who has dominated T20 cricket all over the world and helped West Indies win the ICC T20 World Cup on two occasions. We believe Jason is capable of good performances and we back him to perform at this level and win games as well."
Russell was last seen in a West Indies shirt in the World Cup, but after playing four matches, his knees gave out and he had to be replaced. The 31-year old played his first match since recovering from that injury on July 25 but he didn't bowl or bat in it.
Mohammed, who last played for West Indies in the ODI series against Bangladesh in July last year, was Trinidad & Tobago's highest run-scorer last season in the four-day domestic tournament. The 32-year old captained a weakened West Indies side that toured Pakistan for a T20I series last year, where he made just 28 runs in three games. He has played nine T20Is and averages 18.
The first two T20Is against India are scheduled to be held at the Broward County Stadium in Florida on Saturday and Sunday. The third and final T20I will be played at the Guyana National Stadium on Tuesday.