In American Football, the game’s final throw is called a Hail Mary pass. It is usually the last roll of the dice for a quarterback, with all the pressure on the thrower to execute the perfect final pass to the catcher. In cricket parlance, Andre Russell has been the Hail Mary batter at Kolkata Knight Riders for over half a decade. As long as Russell was around in the middle, the possibilities were endless, and when Russell was gone, so were KKR’s hopes.
Probably that’s why when Russell gets dismissed in a close game, he usually walks back frustrated, angry and disappointed. But against Punjab Kings on Monday evening, Russell did no such thing despite being run-out on the penultimate ball of the match. He was a rare picture of calm while walking back after scoring 42 in 23 balls, even if KKR were one ball away from potentially being out of the playoffs race.
That’s because Rinku Singh was still out there. He did not disappoint Russell, finishing the game with a four off the final ball to keep KKR’s hopes alive. It was a moment that not only displayed Rinku’s growing stature as a finisher but also showed the passing of the finisher’s mantle in the KKR set-up.
“In any other game, with any other batter, I’m not sure if I would run [a bye in the penultimate ball],” Russell told reporters after the match. “I’ve never really done those things before. I would back myself to bat the last delivery and get the job done, but when you have a guy like Rinku who has been so successful in the last couple of overs for us, and when you have such a fearless player who has a shot to counter any delivery. I was definitely confident.
“I gave him a hug and said ‘listen, bring home the bacon for us. At the end of the day, we need you at this point’, and he said, ‘okay big man. No worries.’ Happy days.”
Russell and Rinku had just got themselves set when Arshdeep Singh was tasked with bowling two of the last three overs of the chase. KKR needed 36 in 18, and even though Arshdeep conceded ten runs in the 18th over, one four off Rinku’s bat was streaky and the bowler’s assortment of wide yorkers and short balls in that over made it tough for the two batters to tee off against him.
Russell: Target was to get three boundaries from the 19th over
The KKR allrounder on how he went about the chase and what makes Rinku Singh so special
Therefore the 19th over turned crucial. With 26 needed off 12, all Arshdeep needed was Sam Curran leaving enough runs for him to defend in the 20th. Russell was aware of that too. And therefore he looked to hurt Curran while he could, and succeeded with six, six, dot, six in the space of four balls. Two half-volleys in the mid-130s flew over deep midwicket, and when Curran went short and wide, Russell adjusted quickly enough to slap a six over the off side. With 20 in the bag, the target of six in the last over made KKR overwhelming favourites. Russell said it was his “bowler’s mind” that allowed him to predict what Curran would do.
“Sam Curran was trying to bowl into my body so that I hit the big side of the boundary, that was their plan,” Russell said. “I hit him for two sixes over the big side but as a bowler, because I think like a bowler too, so I knew he wasn’t going to bowl in that area again. The short ball that he bowled, I missed out on it, but when he bowled the slower cutter into the wicket, I just gave myself that little room and just used my hands to get it over the field.
“He didn’t have any third man, it was the short side, and that wasn’t part of their team plan. But when you conquer a team’s bowling plan, then their Plan B is in the batter’s zone most of the time. So T20 is tough and you have to make sure you, as bowlers and batters, stay calm in any situation.”
But Arshdeep executed his plan perfectly in the last over – at least for the first five balls. Russell was welcomed with a yorker, followed by a wide yorker that he could only slice behind square. Rinku then found a thigh-high full toss too tough to put away and Russell followed it up with a drive to cover for two. That made the equation two off two, and with Russell on strike, the penultimate delivery was high stakes. If Russell was dismissed, then KKR would have a new batter facing the last ball needing two runs.
However, Arshdeep bowled a terrific wide yorker that was too good for Russell. He swung at it and missed as the ball bounced to the keeper, and even though he was slow off the blocks to attempt a bye that would tie the game, Rinku had sprinted across to the other end to ensure he would face the last ball. Russell was run out by Arshdeep, leaving KKR still needing two off the final ball. But that left Rinku on strike. The Eden crowd, who was until then cheering for Russell, started their “Rinku, Rinku, Rinku” chant.
Kings suddenly had a backdoor chance for another IPL 2023 away-ground heist. Arshdeep went with a leg-side plan for Rinku’s final ball. The leg side was the shorter side and there was little chance of KKR’s batters making it back for two if the ball went there. The bigger off-side region had numerous big pockets for twos, so Arshdeep was not going to bowl there.
Knowing all that, Rinku moved to the leg side even before Arshdeep delivered the final ball. If Arshdeep bowled the ball he wanted to, it would’ve landed around leg and Rinku had the option of going inside out over cover for two. Instead, Arshdeep missed his length, his attempted leg-stump yorker transforming into a thigh-high full toss, and Rinku swivelled a shot off his hips that went for four past fine leg. Like after his celebrations against Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad, Rinku opened his helmet and ran towards the dug-out, with his team-mates mobbing him for his match-winning unbeaten 10-ball 21 before he could get to them.
After the game, Kings bowling coach Charl Langeveldt said Arshdeep deserved credit for dragging the game down to the final ball by sticking to the bowling plan. Russell, though, said Rinku won that battle because of his calm demeanour.
“The key to Rinku’s performance is being very calm,” Russell said. “As a batter, you have to have an open mind and be relaxed. You can’t expect just a full-pitched delivery. You have to expect the slower ball, the yorker, the short ball at the head, and Rinku has a shot for every delivery. That’s the key to his success. His technique is very simple …. and I’ve been encouraging him whenever I get a chance to talk to him to stay humble.
“Because no matter how many people keep shouting ‘Russell, Russell, Russell’, I always just stay humble. Because when you get swell-headed, that’s when you lose it. He’s a great guy, I love him like a brother, and I hope he keeps doing what he’s doing.”