Russell is a behemoth in T20 cricket and could end up as one of the greatest to have played the format. He flew under the radar in his early years but since 2015 has been the most sought after player across all leagues, thanks to his ability to win matches singlehandedly with bat and sometimes with handy performances with the ball. He was the most valuable player in last year's IPL.
Before looking at smart numbers, here is a quick look at Russell's destructiveness using conventional stats. In 2019, he scored 1080 runs at a strike rate of 182.12 across all T20s. No other batsman with 500 runs in the year scored at such a quick rate. Devdutt Padikkal from Karnataka was next, with a strike rate of 175.75, but he is an opener and has the advantage of batting with field restrictions in place. Of those 1080 runs, 510 came in the IPL, at a strike rate of 204.81. Russell's final-overs impact in the IPL took hitting to an all-new level that ensured KKR could win from situations from where T20 teams had never won before.
In the last five overs of games in the tournament, Russell scored 351 runs from 141 balls at a strike rate of 248.9. Only AB de Villiers had a higher strike rate, but he played only 55 deliveries in those overs. On two occasions, Russell singlehandedly scored more than 50 runs in the last three overs to help KKR get over the line.
Which Russell knock was the best? Which was the most impactful? Smart Stats tries to answer these questions.
Russell's impact in the last two IPLs
Though he missed the 2017 IPL due to a doping ban, Russell has more high-impact performances in the last three IPL seasons than any other player, according to Smart Stats. This impact score is calculated using a complex algorithm, which takes into account multiple factors. For a batsman, this includes the innings run rate and required run rate at every ball when he scored his runs, the quality of opposition bowlers, the number of wickets in hand, and the quality of batsmen to follow.
Russell has six performances in the Smart Stats list of the top 35 most impactful performances from the last three editions of the IPL. The next best is Sunil Narine with three such performances.
Russell's impact with the bat was far greater than that with the ball in the last two editions. KKR had a clear role for him and that clarity probably helped him perform the way he did. He batted on an average for 19 balls in IPL 2019 and played in five different positions, from three to seven. His role changed based on the match situation in terms of wickets lost and whether KKR were batting first or second.
Russell 2.0 came into being at Chepauk in 2018, when he came in to bat in the 11th over with KKR struggling at 89 for 5 and put on a display of his true hitting ability. Russell scored 88 runs from 36 balls, which included 11 sixes. Seven of the 11 sixes were off Dwayne Bravo's bowling. Russell scored 43% of the team total and faced 60% of deliveries in the last ten overs.
His batting impact score in this game was 173, the highest for him in a single IPL game, and his 88 runs were worth 111 Smart Runs for KKR. At the other end, Dinesh Karthik scored only 26 runs from 25 balls, which put more pressure on Russell. KKR managed to lose this game due to some poor bowling but Russell's impact on their batting innings was huge.
Also batting first against the Delhi Capitals in 2019 in Delhi, Kolkata were 61 for 5 in the tenth over when Russell came in to bat. Again alongside Karthik, he managed some lusty hits, scoring 62 from 28 balls. Russell's impact score in this game was 129. The reason for the lower score compared to Chepauk in 2018 was that he got good support from Karthik, who scored 50 from 36 balls, easing some of the pressure on Russell. KKR lost this game as well in a Super Over.
Russell had two similar chases last season, against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore, with KKR requiring 53 from the last three overs. No team in the competition had ever scored more than 50 to win a game in the last three overs. Russell scored 49 from 19 against SRH and 48 from 13 against RCB to help KKR win. Shubman Gill, his partner in both cases was a mere spectator, scoring 18 and 3 runs respectively. Russell's impact score was 112 in both matches - his third- and fourth-best impact performances.
Russell's top score in IPL 2019 was an unbeaten 80 from 40 balls with eight sixes against Mumbai Indians. However, this innings was worth only 82 Smart Runs and had an impact score of only 99 - his seventh best. This is mainly because Russell came in to bat in the tenth over, but at No. 3. KKR were in a strong position on a flat track where every batsman had a strike rate in excess of 160. Russell's knock came under relatively less pressure, given the context of the game. A 28-ball 62, a 12-ball 41 or a 17-ball 48 were all worth more than a 40-ball 80, and Smart Stats captures that impact accurately.
Russell's exploits in the last two years in T20 cricket have created a strong case for him to be considered the best T20 player ever. If he can stay clear of injury, he could scale further heights in the next few years.
Smart Stats is a part of Superstats, a new set of metrics used by ESPNcricinfo to tell more enriching and insightful numbers-based stories. More here.