Kolkata Knight Riders all-rounder Andre Russell faced 17 deliveries on Wednesday against Kings XI Punjab at the Eden Gardens. The first four balls he faced fetched him three runs, all in singles. The last delivery he faced, in the 20th over, saw him get caught at deep midwicket off Andre Tye. In between those, he had a eight-ball sequence where he went: 6, 4, 4, 6, 6, 6, 6, 4.
But it is the fifth ball of his innings that changed the course of the game.
Mohammed Shami was bowling around the wicket to him. A plan was in place. Despite Russell’s strength against pace, KXIP decided to target his toes from an angle that would make freeing his muscular forearms quite difficult. It worked well for a couple of deliveries and then it clicked perfectly into place off what should have been the last ball of the 17th over. Shami nailed his yorker from round the wicket. The stumps had been rattled. The big fish had taken the bait and been caught hook, line and sinker. Mission accomplished for KXIP.
Except it was not. Ashwin’s tryst with the cricket rulebook took a turn for the worse. He, as captain of the fielding side, made the cardinal error of not ensuring that enough fielders were within the circle — only three were inside the 30-yard marker instead of the stipulated four. The umpires had caught it only when Russell was walking back to the dugout, shaking his head in disappointment. And then the no-ball call came, along with the signal for the free-hit. There was nothing Ashwin or Punjab could do about it. The damage had been done but the greater damage was yet to come.
DreRuss had been given a second chance and, in the form he is in, that is a mistake that could cost the entire game.
As it turned out, it did. Russell muscled his way to a 17-ball 48, taking KKR to 218 in their 20 overs — a total that proved to be good enough to ward off KXIP’s stuttering run-chase and make it two wins out of two to start their in Indian Premier League campaign.
Russell goes berserk
From the moment he got his reprieve, Russell batted with the freedom that makes him one of the most dangerous batsman in the game to bowl to. Now, here’s a man who made Bhuvneshwar Kumar — a death bowler par excellence — look like a grade school cricketer a few days back. The over that Kumar conceded 21 runs saw Russell dig out a perfectly good yorker for a four down the ground and a wide yorker that was not in his reach, was still dispatched over long off for six.
KXIP should have known better. They should have known Russell does not mess around at the death overs, when he has the license to go after every ball. They should have stuck to the plan of bowling at his toes or bounce him out.
And Shami and Andrew Tye found that out in just a space of an over each as Russell scored 42 runs in the space of eight deliveries to light up Eden Gardens once again.
It was clear, then, that the only way KXIP would overhaul the target of 219 was with the help of a Gaylestorm. KL Rahul and Chris Gayle would have had to score bulk of the runs for them to stand any chance but both of them were back in the dugout before the powerplay was done.
While Lockie Ferguson accounted for Rahul, it was Russell, stepping up with the ball in his hand, who got rid of the opponent’s main threat. KKR’s plan to Gayle was clear from the word go — bowl short of length, use the bounce and pace in the pitch to hurry him. A couple of those deliveries early on in the innings found the boundary through the third man region, and one just evaded the mid-on fielder when Gayle mishit it. It was then Russell who executed that plan to perfection, using his extra pace to great effect and rushing Gayle into his shot. Russell also added Sarfaraz Khan’s wicket to his tally for good measure, finishing with figures of 2/21 in the three overs he bowled.
Add that to the 17-ball 48 (to go with his 19-ball 49 against SRH in the first match), there was no doubt who was KKR’s hero of the match.
“Thanks to that guy who was outside the ring. It’s the new guy, forgot his name. Thank you,” Russell said after the match, tongue firmly in cheek and a smile that unequivocally conveyed his delight at being given a second chance. “When I get bowled, I thought I’d missed out but I saw the guys in the dugout signalling no-ball and I was like, please God, let it be a no-ball.”
And it was. It’s not often a singular delivery affects the result of a cricket match so drastically. On Wednesday night at the Eden Gardens, it most definitely did.