Andre Russell is an enigma like no other. Few T20 players have made as much impact as Russell over the years and that's primarily because he threw away the notion that strike rotation had a place in this format and instead focused on mere six-hitting. Such is his brute power and ability to take on bowlers that it can be safely said that Andre Russell is the most dangerous T20 batsman to have ever played the game.
Kolkata are lucky to have been able to get him at a time his reputation hadn't skyrocketed and he has subsequently won them several matches single-handedly. However, the question surrounding T20 finishers is always the point when they enter the crease and if they have enough time to make an impact on the game.
Where should Andre Russell bat?
Take Russell's role in the semi-finals of the Caribbean Premier League against Trinbago Knight Riders. Russell walked in with his side in a shambolic state at 63/5 but also when 12 overs of the innings were already done. He had to consolidate yet go big at the same time, which is one task too many for a player like him. Could he have come in at No. 4, or 5 even, if it meant him needing to bat in the powerplays?
The issue with Russell is that while he is a ferocious match-winner, he isn't one to build an innings with singles or doubles and then go big. It's all power and six-hitting once he is in. He also has a record of not being dismissed by spin as often as pace while scoring much quicker against pace than spin.
What this means is that he is solid against spin but does not quite score at the same pace he does against pacers. An ideal entry point then for Russell is in the middle overs without it intruding too much into the first half of the innings.
There's no ideal batting position for a player like Russell. He is a natural floater in a T20 line-up and should come in when the team can maximise his power at the crease. Between overs 10-14 is as good a time as any for Russell to enter without it turning too late for him to try and make a bigger impact.
The Kolkata team dynamics
Coming to Kolkata, Russell is an enforcer in the team and alongside Dinesh Karthik and Eoin Morgan this season, he will be competing to come in within the top 5.
With Sunil Narine and Shubman Gill likely to open and Nitish Rana in at No. 3, Kolkata have a stable top-order. Ideally, they shouldn't decide their No. 4, No.5 and No.6 batting orders and have Morgan, Russell and Karthik floating back and forth based on match situations.
The ideal situation to bring Russell in during a first innings charge is at No. 4, after the powerplays, especially when there is a cushion offered by Morgan and Karthik. That said, Russell isn't someone who starts and builds an innings but Kolkata should try and change that narrative and try Russell up the order, especially when setting targets.
In run-chases, his ideal position is after the 10th over but not so late as to put too much pressure on him. Russell could once again be the game-changer for Kolkata and they need to ensure they use him right this time around.
"If it benefits the team and helps us win games of cricket, why not? If he comes in at No. 3 and bats 60 balls, he might even score a double hundred. Anything can happen with Dre Russ. He is almost the heartbeat of the team," Kolkata mentor David Hussey said last week.
The fact that Kolkata are thinking different with Russell augurs well for them this season. We could well be in for a 'Dre Russ' show this IPL.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dibyangshu Sarkar