WEST INDIES: From his consulting room at the Racer’s Track Club in central Kingston, Usain Bolt’s sports therapist Everald Edwards could notice Andre Russell’s blank eyes and fidgety fingers weaving patterns on the touchscreen of his mobile phone. A few times, it slipped out of his palms and crashed onto the floor, upon which he called Russell into his room. They had only briefly acquainted, but Edwards knew Russell’s torment — he had just served a one-year-ban for not disclosing doping whereabouts, subsequent to which he endured a savage media trial and upon his reintegration into the game in the Pakistan Super League, had hurt himself badly.
But if Edwards expected a teary, confessional Russell, he was proved wrong. The cricketer, his composure regained, broke into a bit of banter straightaway, “So Eddie, could you make me run as fast as Usain?” Edwards replied: “I would make you run faster than him!” With these words unpeeled Russell’s rediscovery path, from a talented but troubled cricketer to one of the fiercest hitters in the game.
Of course, he could hit the ball with the same ferocity before the ban, but not with the absurd consistency as now. Sample these numbers — post the ban, Russell has struck 130 sixes in 58 games, a six every five balls, scored 1458 runs at a strike rate of 176 and an average of 30. All this coming mostly at No. 6 or below, with an inhuman ability to tee off the moment he comes in. There’s no more gripping validation of his six-hitting prowess than the fact that he struck more sixes this IPL than the self-styled Universe Boss of six-hitting — Chris Gayle (a 52-34 landslide). And striking them as cleanly and brutally as he wants them to, with a quintessentially laconic Caribbean shrug and a low-slung smirk. Maybe, there was a subtle passing of the six-hitting baton, from one Jamaican to another. Add to this his accurate medium pace, and in a market dominated by the shortest format, he becomes the most valuable human asset, earning wages worth 2 million dollars every year. A sum that could only head north after his latest IPL exploits, if he reprises that at the World Cup.
But that afternoon in Edwards’ consulting room, Russell feared for his cricketing future. “He was remarkably fit by normal standards, but his biggest complaint was that his body was not listening to him. He had lost a few yards of pace, and was a touch slow to strike the ball. He felt it all was due to a drop in his fitness. He had bulked up and lost a lot of muscle too.” Edwards remembers.