Andre Russell's devastating form in IPL 2019 has raised the question of his batting position for Kolkata Knight Riders. While he has often demolished bowling attacks at the death, experts and laymen alike have asked whether his team would be better served if Russell walks in with more overs remaining. After Knight Riders slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat, Russell added fuel to the fire by suggesting that he should have batted higher up the order, instead of walking in with an asking rate of 16.53 after Royal Challenges Bangalore had piled up 213 for 4.
"Look, we were chasing 214 runs and weren't in the best state when I went out to bat," Russell said after the match, which Knight Riders ended up losing by only ten runs. "When Nitish (Rana) asked what I thought, I said 'I bat one way - and that's positive.' (But) to go out there and chasing 14-15 per over, it's not the best way you want to start as a batsman. I'm used to these situations, but why I say it's a sweet and sour feeling is because we need to learn from this, as a team. We need to learn that we can get 214. And to lose by 10 runs, well, we were just two hits away.
"I believe that [I should bat higher up the order]," Russell said as he put a finger to his lips, as if to suggest it was something he wanted, but couldn't speak about. "Honestly, you have to sometimes be flexible as a team. When you look at the make-up of our team, I don't mind going to bat at No. 4."
"When I'm at the crease, Virat Kohli will bowl the best bowlers to get me out, and those best bowlers will therefore have less overs remaining in the back end."Andre Russell
Knight Riders' first two wins of the season came from near-impossible situations, driven by Russell. They chased down more than 50 runs in less than three overs on both occasions, against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab, but Russell believed those weren't ideal scenarios in the first place. He pointed out that him batting higher up would force opposition captains to use their best bowlers earlier in the game, thereby leaving their weaker bowlers for the difficult death overs.
"When I'm at the crease, Virat Kohli will bowl the best bowlers to get me out, and those best bowlers will therefore have less overs remaining in the back end," Russell said. "So even if I score 60 off 25 balls and give the team the early pump, then the type of bowlers like Dale Steyn will have only one over to bowl at the death, or they may bowl out. So I think me going to bat early would definitely be good for KKR, but with our make-up as a team... yeah, [stopping himself], that's a good answer."
Russell also suggested that Knight Riders had suffered against Royal Challengers due to a lack of urgency in the middle overs, which contributed to the defeat. He walked in at No.6, with the team 79 for 4 and needed 135 to win off 49 balls. Russell ended up smashing 65 off 25, adding 118 runs in eight overs alongside Rana (85* off 46), but was eventually left with too much to do as Knight Riders ended on 203 for 5.
"You know when you lose cricket games like these, it's a sweet and sour feeling," Russell said. "I just think that a four and six could've got us over the line. We lost the game in the middle overs. Even though we should've restricted RCB for less than 200, I think the ball was in our court and we tossed the ball to their side. That's what happened tonight.
"If we batted faster in the middle period, we would definitely get the runs with even balls to spare. Well batted to Nitish, but this is something [of concern]."
Knight Riders sit at sixth on the points table, having lost five of their nine games. With three away games in their last five matches, including two against a Mumbai Indians side that they haven't beaten in five years, the road to playoff qualification has become a tough one at the business end of the tournament.
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo