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Andre Russell is pushing the envelope till it rips

He's a superhero out of an animator's fever dream. Is it too soon to say he's perhaps the greatest T20 player of all time?

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Andre Russell, West Indies vs New Zealand, Men's T20 World Cup 2024, Tarouba, June 12, 2024

Andre the giant: Russell bestrides the world of T20 like a colossus; sometimes he flies  •  ICC/Getty Images

It is entirely plausible, depending on how you consume your cricket (let's say, intermittently, in longer form and international), that the career of Andre Russell has played itself out near the periphery of your consumption. Occasionally, no doubt, he's burst through, when winning World Cups for example, or dominating IPLs, or pulling off feats of cricket so unimaginable you suspect they're AI-generated.
Equally as likely, you've seen him referenced in some lament about the decline of West Indian cricket, as he turns down a central contract and chooses $$ over duty for country. Viv and company would never have done that (though, two words: Packer, Kerry). Or you can vaguely recall a doping ban from a few years ago, probably also as a lament about the lack of integrity in what used to be a gentleman's sport.
If that is the case, then while he has your attention at this World Cup, consider the proposition that Russell is among the greatest cricketers to have played the game. If that is too much to swallow and you feel putting him in the same cross-format list as, say, Jacques Kallis, is sacrilege, then sure, add the caveat of his format. With that qualification, there's even less competition: he isn't simply among the greatest T20 cricketers to have lived, he's one of the greatest two, alongside Kieron Pollard.
No? If West Indies win this T20 World Cup, Russell will have won more world titles than Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharran and Andy Roberts. He already has more than Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Desmond Haynes. If you say, so has Johnson Charles, well, yes, touché. Well played. Except, if Russell wins this tournament, it will be his 14th T20 title (league titles in seven different countries), a winningness that puts him out on his own with Pollard (18 titles) and Dwayne Bravo (17).
It's slightly urgent to drive all this home because he's 36 and these might be the last few days we see Russell in a world event representing the West Indies. Maybe. Last December, when he returned to the West Indies side after two years, he said he'd told the coach, Daren Sammy, he'd walk away from international cricket after the World Cup. Except if they needed him after it. In which case, he'd come out of retirement.
That, of course, is one of the marks of the T20 age, that nobody really retires anymore. Chris Gayle still hasn't called it quits officially. One player's goodbye is another's franchise hello. Given that less than a sixth of Russell's T20 matches have been played for West Indies, and that he's played one and a half times as many games for Kolkata Knight Riders as he has for West Indies, leaving KKR might be the more significant exit.
Some part of Russell's greatness is in this late bloom, in which he is 36 but performing as if he's a decade younger. He's five years on from looking like he was done during the 2019 World Cup when his knee had given way; from major knee surgery; nearly three years on from what was supposed to be the end of his era; a year on from the 2023 IPL, where he had a senior moment, sacrificing his wicket off the penultimate ball by getting run-out so he could get the new finisher, Rinku Singh, on strike; and old enough now to have proteges.
Thirty-six, in his 15th year as a T20 cricketer and having, by some measures, his best year yet. He has never averaged more with the bat in a year (43.4) or had a higher strike rate (brace yourselves: 203.2, across 28 innings). It is the highest strike rate for any batter this year with 500-plus runs (no batter has had more such years).
Straightforward averages are generally inadequate in this format but that the difference between Russell's batting and bowling averages for the year is 22 - the highest it has been for him - feels plenty adequate. He's only taken more wickets in a year three times than his 40 so far this year, and he's never had a better bowling strike rate.
The greater part of his greatness, of course, is the ability to make an impact, to change a game, while having limited space or resource to do so. And that has felt never more distilled than this year. Think about the limited parameters of his involvement in a game anyway: at most 24 balls as bowler, and as a closer, 20-25 balls if he's lucky. This year he's bowled his full quota of overs in fewer than a third of his innings (10 out of 36). Only three times in 28 innings has he batted more than 20 balls. And yet, he was the third-most impactful player in a title-winning IPL season, behind only Sunil Narine (who had the advantage of opening) and Jasprit Bumrah (who had the advantage of being Jasprit Bumrah).
And despite his years and that rehabilitated knee, Russell is still one of the athletes you'd pay good money to watch in the field, bringing an NBA aesthetic to his boundary work, and more traditional cricketing excellence inside the circle. Look up his run outs of Rahul Tripathi and Hashim Amla (Quinton de Kock was on strike with Amla) from point, mirror images of each other, except one is from this season's IPL and the other from the T20 World Cup eight years ago.
He hasn't set this T20 World Cup alight exactly, though by his numbers, it's not like he's not contributing: six games in, nine wickets from 97 balls bowled, ten boundaries off 38 balls faced. It's just that his most impactful work has come against Uganda, PNG and USA. If West Indies go all the way, though, it's inevitable he will have been involved.
And then, soon enough, all we'll have left are the highlights reels. Usually those aren't the best ways to assess a player's career or contributions, except in Russell's case, they are the entire point. His whole career is a highlights reel because that is literally what he is paid to create. Smash some sixes. Smash some stumps. Take spectacular catches. Make crazy saves. Win games. Win titles. A cricketer, but only if one was drawn up by Stan Lee: rippling six-pack and biceps, wild haircuts and only maximal heroic feats. But no normal alter ego.
So even as he has existed at the peripheries of some of your worlds, he's been at the very forefront of this new, developing landscape, already the first genuine superstar in the gig-economisation of cricket. Twenty years from now he'll be recognised by everyone as a pioneer, the new normal decades before it became the normal. Even if we accept that normal can never be Andre Russell.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo