Andre Russell, the IPL's most destructive, impactful and valuable player
No other player comes to close to the impact he has on games in the league
When the history of T20 cricket is written, Andre Russell will deserve a a tome to himself, with a few chapters devoted only to his batting. In T20 cricket, there isn't another player like him. Kieron Pollard may come close, but in the IPL nobody can touch Russell.
And data only corroborates what fans intuitively understand about Russell's impact on matches. Has Russell got runs against the opposition's best bowler? Has he bowled with an economy rate of less than nine in a match where both teams made 200? Has he had to chase down 50 in the last three overs more than once?
ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats runs on an evolved algorithm capturing a T20 game's every dynamic movement, ball by ball, and it tells us that out of the 64 games he has played in the IPL, Russell has had the top impact value in 17. He is the most impactful performer once every 3.8 matches, 25% better than the second-placed Chris Gayle, who achieves the same every 5.1 matches (among players who have played at least 60 IPL games). Among the elite of the elite T20 players, that is a massive margin.
In addition, Russell has the highest impact per match in absolute terms too - of any player, active or retired. He has often turned matches around with the bat, although he makes significant contributions with the ball too. And advanced as it is, even our algorithm can't calculate the errors Russell forces bowlers to make, whether it be extras conceded while trying to perfect the wide yorker or trying to hustle an extra yard of pace.
In terms of only batting impact per match, Russell is eighth on the all-time list. Ahead of him are Gayle, David Warner, Rishabh Pant, AB de Villiers, Jos Buttler, Virender Sehwag and Shaun Marsh, each of those a top-order batsman. The median value of when Russell has come in to bat in an IPL game is the 14th over. The next highest non-top-order batsman in this list is Glenn Maxwell, ranked 22.
Is it any wonder that there is a clamour to see him bat higher up the order?
He bowls less often now, but when his knees aren't troubling him, Russell the bowler is quite a handful too.
In one of the highest-scoring matches of the IPL, against Kings XI Punjab in 2018, KKR made 245 for 6 and Kings XI put up a spirited chase, but only managed 214 for 8. Russell made 31 off 14 and took 3 for 41, but look at the scorecard and you'll see some better numbers: Sunil Narine's 75 off 36 and Dinesh Karthik's 50 off 23 for KKR. For Punjab, KL Rahul made 66 off 29 and Andrew Tye took 4 for 41.
Russell had a solid match, you would think, but measure his total impact on the match and he comes out on top. His bowling impact of 123.79 is only 20 points behind Tye's and more than double that of the next best bowler in the match, Mohit Sharma (1 for 40) with 59.54. What Smart Stats accounts for is the timing of Russell's strikes: a double breakthrough when Kings XI had raced to 57 without loss in 5.3 overs, and a further wicket at the end of the eighth over. His first wicket was that of Gayle, one of the few batsmen with the firepower to threaten a tall chase. Russell's economy of 10.25 isn't bad in a match where the run rate was 11.47, but when you look at it alongside his wickets, it's a distinctly superior performance. And paired with the more-than-useful batting, it gave Russell the highest overall impact in the match, beating out Tye and Narine, who were great in one discipline but not so much in the other.
The impact of Russell's batting shows up even more starkly on Smart Stats. While KKR lost this 2018 game to Chennai Super Kings, Russell was the dominant star. He came in at 89 for 5 after ten overs and blasted 88 off 36 balls to drag his team to 202 for 6. His batting impact of 173.04 was off the charts, way higher than that of Player of the Match Sam Billings' 111.45 points. Russell had a positive impact with the ball too, giving away only 35 runs in four overs in a 200-plus game.
There are a plethora of matches in which Russell's impact can be seen via Smart Stats. Perhaps that book will in fact go into several volumes.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo