West Indies allrounder Andre Russell will play his first competitive cricket match in a year when he represents Jamaica in the Regional Super50, West Indies' domestic 50-over competition, against Leeward Islands on Friday in Antigua. Russell is free to play cricket again having served a year-long ban for violating the whereabouts clause under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. An independent tribunal in Jamaica found Russell guilty of the charge and banned him from playing any cricket between January 31, 2017 and January 30 this year.
A three-member tribunal comprising Hugh Faulkner, Dr Marjorie Vassell and Dixeth Palmer, a former Jamaica cricketer, found Russell guilty of being negligent in filing his whereabouts on three separate occasions within a 12-month period in 2015. Under the WADA rules, that amounts to a failed dope test.
Russell is one of the most sought-after players in T20 leagues around the world. Recently, along with his West Indies team-mate Sunil Narine, Russell was one of the two players retained by Kolkata Knight Riders before the IPL auction. Knight Riders paid Russell INR 8.5 crore ($1.33 million approx.) for the retention.
At present, Russell's focus would be to test his physical as well as match fitness in the Super50 tournament in the West Indies. Out of the eight matches Jamaica play, Russell is expected to play most, if not all, before he departs for the Pakistan Super League (PSL), which starts in Dubai from February 22. Russell is part of Islamabad United, the inaugural title winners in 2016.
As he prepared for his return, Cricket West Indies announced last week that Russell was one of the four players that had decided to skip the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, which run parallel to the PSL. The CWI media release quoted Courtney Browne, chairman of selectors, saying Russell, along with the Trinidad & Tobago trio of Narine, Darren Bravo and Kieron Pollard had opted to play in the PSL instead of the Qualifiers.
However, Johnny Grave, the CWI's chief executive officer, clarified that he understood Russell's position. Even before he was banned, Russell had only been playing T20 cricket for West Indies. His last ODI appearance was in 2015. When CWI reached him recently, Russell made the selectors aware that he was still keen to play for West Indies in the ODI and T20 formats. He just wanted time to regain his match fitness and confidence.
According to Grave, Russell told the selectors that since he was returning after over a year, he was confident of making himself available for the Qualifiers, which has the highest significance for West Indies.
After the PSL, Russell will head to India for the IPL. He is then likely to be part of the West Indies A squad to face England A for one-day matches. Based on his performances, the selectors are likely to consider him for selection for the home ODI series against Bangladesh in the coming summer.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo