“Replaceable” Russell says West Indies come first; belatedly wanted to tour NZ

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By Akeem Greene

Talismanic all-rounder Andre Russell has broken his silence on where his commitment stands as it regards West Indies cricket.

Russell was criticised for opting to play in the Lanka Premier League after he indicated to Cricket West Indies Chairman of Selectors, Roger Harper, that he “needed time to clear his head” and could not tour New Zealand for the three-match T20 series last month.

In an interview with SportsMax TV on Tuesday, Russell clarified his stance and the reason he was not in New Zealand.

“Playing for West Indies comes first for me and the energy and effort that I put out playing for West Indies, I wouldn’t do it playing anywhere else, and sometimes people don’t understand what a player like myself go through with niggles and all those things.”

“The chairman [of selectors] reached out to me while I was playing IPL [Indian Premier League] but before that, I was talking to [Kieron] Pollard and Pollard said, ‘Russ I am not forcing you, I am just asking, you coming to New Zealand?’ I said ‘yeah I would like to come but right now Polly my headspace is messed up, I am struggling, I am not getting no runs.”

Injuries have plagued Russell’s career of late (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Strain of the bubble

Russell had spent over a month in a bubble in Trinidad and Tobago for the Caribbean Premier League from August to October then immediately went to the United Arab Emirates, where he had to quarantine then play the Indian Premier League in another bubble, for two months.

“Coming from a bubble in Trinidad, coming straight into Abu Dhabi, days upon days you only go practice and come back to the hotel; you know your room, you can close your eyes and go everywhere because there is nowhere else to go.”

In the CPL and IPL, players were only allowed to go to the practice facility, match venue and hotel, unlike New Zealand, where, after two weeks of managed isolation (they got to train and interact in groups after three days), players were free to interact with the general public.

Fans are present at matches in New Zealand – the first country to have such post-pandemic.

“I told the Chairman, my headspace is not clear; I changed my stance, I changed my technique I changed my trigger movement. All these things I changed just to score runs in the IPL and nothing was going my way, the pressure was real.”

He added, “He reached out to me a couple of days after I played two games, we won one and lost one, I struggled in both games…so I was saying ‘no, I can’t go to New Zealand like this, I need to at least take a break from cricket.’ After IPL, I go Dubai, go out and just clear my head.”

Since the 2016 World T20 triumph, Russell has only represented in eight T20Is, the last of which was March 2020 in Sri Lanka where he scored 40* off just 14 balls.

The 32-year-old explained the circumstances that led him to having a change of thoughts and wanting to tour New Zealand.

“I spoke to [Shimron] Hetmyer and Keemo Paul and they said after the 14 days in New Zealand you will be able to go out and walk around, and I didn’t know that. I reached out to the Chairman and said ‘Sir I know a week or two weeks ago I said I am not available, I am [now] available and I want to go around my Caribbean guys and I know maybe I will be better off in that space.”

The Jamaican said Harper’s response indicated that West Indies had already made a decision on the squad for which he was omitted.

“I know I am not irreplaceable because if you get injured or you are struggling, another player can easily take your space so I don’t consider myself the best thing in the Caribbean; I know I am replaceable. At the end, I felt disappointed to make a decision that late, the team is there and I can’t play.”

The all-rounder said he eventually sustained a Grade II – III hamstring injury in the IPL, which would have made him pull out of the West Indies series if he has been selected. He said his physiotherapist worked three sessions daily of rehab and strengthening, which helped him play the last round-robin game of the IPL.

Andre Russell of Kolkata Knight Riders frustrated after getting out during match 54 of season 13 of the Dream 11 Indian Premier League (IPL) between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rajasthan Royals held at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on the 1st November 2020. (Photo by: Saikat Das/Sportzpics for BCCI)

Freedom

“The bubble was broken and I got out the bubble, I got to Dubai, have a good time, drink, party, loosen myself and I feel alive. I never been to prison but this lockdown felt like it. Playing cricket in this lockdown and not performing, you are going to question yourself.”

The big-hitting West Indian only scored 117 runs with a highest of 25 in the 10 matches for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) this season and took six wickets from his 18 overs, which went at an economy rate of 9.72 – the third most expensive for KKR this season.

Initially, Russell said he got an offer to play in the Lanka Premier League (LPL), but turned it down due to the injury which had him out of the IPL for two weeks.

However, after the ‘freedom’ in Dubai, and not being able to join the West Indies T20 squad, he indicated he accepted an offer when Sri Lankan cricketer Angelo Matthews contacted him to play.

Russell had to undergo two weeks of quarantine before joining Colombo Kings in the tournament, which is also being played in a bubble.

In six matches to date for the Kings, he has scored 137 runs at a strike rate of 204.47 with a best of 65* off 19 balls in a five-over contest. He has also taken five wickets, going at an economy rate of 7.77.

The 32-year-old has found form in the Lankan Premier League

Coming back stronger

“I have been injury-prone for the last couple of years, struggling with a knee injury and having hamstring injuries. I don’t want anyone to say that the next time Andre Russell puts on the West Indies colours he is going to get injured. No one walks out to the field and say I am going to get injured today, no player.”

“I dive, I do whatever I have to do but now I am smarter in terms of how to manage my body; I will allow a ball to go for four and try to make it up with the bat, but when you are playing for your country, you want to make sure the body is at 100%.”

After the LPL, the Jamaican will return home for a few weeks to spend time with family after which he will join the United States of America National Football League franchise, Dallas Cowboys, for two months where he will undergo high-performance training and rehab.

The arrangement came compliments of KKR’s management.

“I am going to make sure that my body is fit and I am stronger than ever before. I am tired of people saying ‘oh he is breaking down every minute and Andre Russell can’t finish a tour.’ No, I don’t want to be known as that type of player, I want to make sure I am a man of steel.”

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