Amid a floodlight failure, a dream comeback to the big stage, some parsimonious bowling from Rashid Khan, Andre Russell pulled off an extraordinary heist at the Eden Gardens.
His breathtaking unbeaten 49 off 19 balls may not have had had the sheer audaciousness of his Kolkata Knight Riders teammate Carlos Brathwaite at the same venue in the World T20 final, but the theme was the same – making the seemingly impossible look like child’s play.
The Sunrisers Hyderabad bowlers, defending a steep 182-run target, were in the driver’s seat. Their bowlers had done nothing wrong till that point and despite valiant efforts from Nitish Rana and Robin Uthappa, the required rate skyrocketed with every ball. Remember, Hyderabad are not an easy side to put away.
Their run to the final last season was built on defending totals at will. They were so good at it, they almost teased teams into realising that momentum was ceded, only to wrest it back. On one occasion, they defended a mere 118 against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium.
And it looked like the evening belonged to David Warner, who batted like he hadn’t lost a year in his life. Playing shots all around the wicket while cutting, pulling and reverse-sweeping to glory, the Australian returning from a ban looked set for a century before – who else – Russell took his wicket.
After the short delay following a floodlights snag, early signs indicated that Kolkata Knight Riders had lost their way in the chase. The uncanny Rashid Khan removed Rana and the home side needed 53 from 18 balls. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hyderabad’s captain for the day, had another over to bowl and had an excellent record backing him during the death overs.
That was when the Russell show began. Poor Siddarth Kaul witnessed the first signs of the storm. He was picked apart for 19 runs, which included two effortless sixes off successive deliveries. The shots neither had much of a backlift to speak of nor did he try to muscle it out of the park. The 30-year-old’s lethal bottom-hand was good enough to send the ball sailing into the distance and the short boundaries did not help the fielding side.
Kaul was impressive till that point and almost yorked Russell in his previous over, but the West Indian somehow managed to get his massive willow down on time to block it out.
Spare a thought for Kumar. He erred in length by just a fraction. In another game, he might conceded less than six runs in that over. The deliveries were pitched up, full, and darting into the batsman. Russell clubbed them over the deep mid-wicket boundary after getting his front leg out of the way. With two sixes and as many boundaries and a packed crowd scarcely believing what was unfolding in front of them, the course of the match had shifted dramatically.
The West Indian had done enough. Gill did the rest by showing a calm head on his young shoulders by hammering two clean hits off Shakib to help his side get home by two balls to spare.
It was Russell’s ability to send the ball the distance that came to the fore this time last year as well, when Kolkata played their season opener against Chennai Super Kings.
The reverse happened at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. A fine exhibition of sending the ball to the parking lot (he hit 11 sixes) was usurped by heist-masters CSK chasing down a mammoth 200+ score. Russell, at the time, was conquering his own battle after being slapped with a one-year ban for missing dope tests, and was struggling with a niggle.
Warner scripted a similar tale of redemption on Sunday but could only watch the ball disappear over head at alarming regularity at the business end of the game. “He played all the shots, the bowlers did not bowl bad deliveries but he just smashed them,” Rashid said after the game.
Warner the skipper, might have done things differently compared to Kumar. And who knows what might have happened had Rashid bowled one of the final three overs.
The Australian may have already booked a place for the World Cup given how fluent he looked. But Russell stole his thunder by adding another dash of colour to his cult image showing why he is one of the most sought-after players in this format.