New Jamaica Tallawahs captain Andre Russell had the performance of a lifetime last night, as he almost singlehandedly pulled his team to victory in an enthralling Caribbean Premier League (CPL) encounter against Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain.
TKR—the defending CPL champions and, arguably, the strongest team on paper in this year’s edition—looked destined to claim consecutive victories after their thumping win against St Lucia Stars on Wednesday. But one towering, hard-hitting Jamaican by the name of Andre “Dre Russ” Russell had other ideas.
At the end of the contest, the Tallawahs captain had cracked an astonishing 121 not out, while he also grabbed figures of 3 for 37 with the ball. For Russell, those three wickets came in the form of a hat-trick in the last over of the TKR innings, which saw the hosts close on an imposing 223/6 off their allotted 20 overs.
Game over, right?
Well, the TKR supporters certainly thought so, and they were dancing like there was no tomorrow. The hosts recorded the CPL’s highest score on the back of impressive fifties by the New Zealand pair of Brendon McCullum (56 off 27) and Colin Munro (61 off 41)—and it looked as though only a miracle could stop the inevitable.
But they don’t call Russell “Super-Man” for nothing. And last night, the all-action all-rounder used up all of his extra-terrestrial power to get the Tallawahs over the line.
With his team teetering at 41/5 in the seventh over, Russell strolled out to the middle and spooned the first delivery he faced from leg spinner Fawad Ahmed into the air. The Oval held its collective breath before gasping in horror as seamer Ali Khan ran past what looked to be a dolly of a catch.
What a miss it was. And oh how costly it turned out to be.
Up to that point, the Pakistan-born Khan could do no wrong. His early three over burst of 3 for 15—coupled with his return of 2 for 10 against the Stars in midweek—made him an early fan favourite.
The wily Khan, who formerly turned out for the Guyana Amazon Warriors, was learning the steps to his new Dwayne Bravo-inspired jig, as he sent back Glenn Phillips (6 off 3), Andre McCarthy (duck) and Ross Taylor (1 off 3) in quick succession.
His swing and pace has proven to a problem for opposition batsmen thus far but he encountered a few problems of his own last night and must have wished that the slick Oval surface could swallow him up.
“I was put down first ball and I said to myself, you know what I’m going to make them pay for it,” said Russell, after the match. “I said I’m gonna give myself a few more balls to get in and then I just kept going. So I have to give God thanks.”
And it was a heavy price, as Russell notched the highest CPL individual score, while rattling off the fastest CPL century in the process—as he shared in a CPL record 161-run partnership with Kennar Lewis (52 off 35).
It was not something that Bravo and company has not witnessed before though, as in 2016, Russell whacked an even hundred off 42 balls—last night he was two balls faster—to help eliminate the T&T franchise at the semi-final stage. The Tallawahs then went on to clinch their second CPL title.
However, in the subsequent season, the Tallawahs had to do without the services of Russell, due to a one year doping ban, and talisman Chris Gayle, due to a transfer to the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, and relinquished their crown to TKR.
Russell could not take part in domestic or international cricket for running foul of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) whereabouts ruling. And last night, it appeared that the belligerent all-rounder was making up for lost time.
In all, Russell bludgeoned 13 sixes and six fours, as he silenced the Oval crowd while racking up 121 off 49 balls. And no one was spared as the Tallawahs captain found an able accomplice in Lewis.
Both Lewis and Russell took a liking to the mid wicket boundary, while the latter also showed a particular affection for the straighter route, almost taking off Bravo’s head with a brute straight back hit in one instance.
But one wonders how many balls it takes for Russell to play himself in though, as he was into his work just a couple deliveries after his reprieve in the seventh over.
The ball got rolling with speedster Shannon Gabriel, with 20 runs coming off the eight over. And the big man showed that he was up to the spin challenge as well, as he swiftly romped to 50 by the end of the 12th over after taking Fawad and champion off-spinner Sunil Narine to the cleaners; hitting four towering sixes in the space of two overs.
Skipper Bravo was not spared either, as 22 balls came off the subsequent 13th over, with Russell smacking two sixes and two fours.
All of a sudden Russell was in the 70s and the required run rate, which was a shade over 12 runs an over, seemed like child’s play to a man on a clear mission.
It’s at this point where the air seemed to come out of the Oval, as realisation hit that Russell had to be dislodged in order for TKR to snatch the win. And that’s easier said that done.
“It was challenging [to bowl to Russell],” Bravo told the media. “It helps us to build character. I tried everything. I rotated my bowlers. We came up with different plans and he counteracted each and every plan. You don’t often see someone hit Sunil Narine the way Russell did.
“I’m happy Russell made runs and I’m happy for the way he played. He deserved to be on the winning side for getting a hat-trick and scoring a hundred. He proved why he’s the best player in the world in this format and hats off to him […] there’s no reason to drop our heads. We played a good game despite the loss.”
On their quest to curtail Russell, the TKR bowlers opted to bowl full and wide or came around the wicket and tried to angle the ball into Russell’s pads.
Aside from Bravo’s third over which only went for four runs, the TKR bowlers were just sailing to all parts and defeat was no longer an impossibility but a harsh reality.
Lewis was playing the supporting role beautifully as he always kept the score ticking over. And the giant of a right-handed batsman accelerated to his 50 by taking boundaries off of Fawad and Javon Searles before eventually succumbing to the Australian leggy in the 18th over with the score on 202/6.
At that point, the visitors just needed to bat sensibly.
With a run-a-ball required off the last over, the home supporters cheered loudly as Narine served up a dot ball to Imad Wasim. However, the deafening silence was soon back as Russell pumped Narine over mid-wicket to clinch victory with three balls to spare.
Take a bow Super-Man.
Earlier in the proceedings, Bravo and his TKR outfit seemed to have the kryptonite for Russell and the visitors.
Barring Narine (7 off 6), the top order clicked really well and again took the opposition bowling attack apart. Chris Lynn (46 off 27) and Munro shared in a brilliant partnership of 98 and looked capable of taking the game away from the Tallawahs.
However, as evidenced by last night’s run chase, no total is safe when Russell is around. And how fitting was it, that Russell broke the partnership between the Aussie and the Kiwi with a stunning diving catch in the inner circle off of Krishmar Santokie’s bowling.
After Munro was dismissed for a well played 61, McCullum and Bravo (Darren) (27 off 16) shared in a breathtaking partnership of 86, with both batsmen seemingly playing themselves into form. Barbadian pacer Kemar Roach was particularly generous as he often served up full tosses or badly lined balls which said “hit me.”
The batsman duly obliged.
Roach conceded 64 runs in his four over spell, 30 of which came in the penultimate over of the innings.
But maybe Roach’s shortcomings caused Russell to dig deep and the captain’s dismissals of McCullum, Darren and Denesh Ramdin perhaps inspired a remarkable comeback win.
“I wasn’t worried at any point when they were scoring boundary after boundary because I know when I’m batting that it’s the same pressure which the opposing captain goes under,” Russell said. “At no point did I think that it was over.”
Although Russell’s superhuman antics took the game away from TKR last night, things don’t get any easier for the defending champions as the “Universe Boss” and the Patriots are in town. The Oval may well be in for a Chris Gayle Storm.
Bravo tried to downplay the Gayle factor though.
“There is no [specific] plan [for Gayle],” Bravo said. “We just have to go out there and forget about what happened tonight and start fresh. We have to stick to our basics.”
It remains to be seen if Narine will keep his place at the top of the batting order while Gabriel’s spot in the bowling attack could also be in jeopardy.
But one thing is for certain, the TKR skipper is full of confidence.
“I still believe we are the best team in the tournament and there’s no pressure. It’s too early to talk about pressure. We lost so at least we know that we can be beaten.”
(Friday 10 August)
Trinbago Knight Riders 223 for 6 off 20 overs: Colin Munro 61, Brendon McCullum 56, Andre Russell 3 for 38, Imad Wasim 1 for 23;
Jamaica Tallawahs 225 for 6 off 19.3 overs: Andre Russell 121*, Kennar Kewis 52, Ali Khan 3 for 24, Fawad Ahmed 2 for 46;
Man of the Match: Andre Russell (Jamaica Tallawahs)
Upcoming CPL Fixtures
(Saturday 11 August)
Guyana Amazon Warriors vs St Lucia Stars, 4pm, Providence Stadium, Guyana;
Trinbago Knight Riders vs St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, 8pm, Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad.