'I tune in to India's matches to watch Rinku Singh bat': Andre Russell
Andre Russell doesn't miss out on India's T20Is much and it is because of his KKR teammate Rinku Singh
Andre Russell was waiting for Rinku Singh. His smile told a story. That of pride and happiness. But he was mindful enough to not come in the way of the youngster's limelight. The big-hitting West Indies all-rounder, KKR's Dre-Russ, was more than happy to be second best. The night belonged to Rinku. And when the left-hander was just about to reach the dugout amid thunderous applause from the Eden Gardens crowd, Russell made his move. He bowed to Rinku and gave him a bear hug. If ever a picture narrated a thousand words.
Russell was finally ready to pass on the finisher's baton to Rinku. The then-25-year-old had earned it the hard way. He had just finished yet another successful run-chase for KKR in IPL 2023 with a last-ball boundary off Punjab Kings' death-overs specialist, Arshdeep Singh. Mind you, Russell was the Player of the Match in that game for his 23-ball 42 but he had the confidence of running for a bye that in the end, resulted in his run out when two runs were needed off two balls.
"In any other game, with any other batter, I'm not sure if I would have run. I would back myself to bat the last delivery and get the job done. But with Rinku, I knew he would do it," Russell had said after that match.
The seeds for this confidence were perhaps sown about a month before that night when Rinku had done the unthinkable by hitting five sixes in the last over off Yash Dayal to pull off an impossible-looking run-chase for KKR. Rinku's stocks as a finisher have been on the rise since then. After smashing 474 runs at a strike rate of 149.53 in the last edition of IPL, Rinku earned his maiden India call-up for the Ireland tour. He had an immediate impact as a finisher and made it almost impossible for the selectors to look beyond him in the shortest format.
Russell has been following this upward trajectory of his KKR teammate very closely. From seeing the youngster toiling hard in the nets, making every possible effort to be a team man, Russell now tunes in to a T20I featuring India mostly to watch Rinku bat. "I've been watching the games (India vs Australia T20Is) and if I miss something, I tune into the highlights and it's mostly for Rinku," Russell told Hindustan Times from Abu Dhabi, where he is currently busy playing in the T10 league for the Deccan Gladiators.
Rinku has only got a chance to bat four times for India so far and has faced all of 59 balls. But he has made sure to make each and every one of those count. 21 of those have either gone for a six or a four. With scores of 38, 37*, 22* and 31* and a T20I strike rate of 216.94 have earned him comparisons with the great MS Dhoni.
Russell is not at all surprised by this. He says Rinku always had it in him and that he will only improve as he gets more exposure at the highest level. "I'm not surprised by what Rinku is doing. He joined KKR a few years ago. And every time he batted in practice games or in the nets, we saw the potential. He would hit those big shots. But getting that opportunity and doing it on the big stage, doing it IPL, finishing games after games, it gives him the confidence that every player desires. He has been a tremendous team man. It's heartening to someone so young, who has so much passion for the game, doing so well in wearing the blue. And I think he will improve further and become an even better player as the years go by," he said.
With Rinku for company, Russell eyes bumper season for KKR
Russell and Rinku were among the 14 players retained by KKR for next year's IPL. "There has been a lot of talk about me getting released and all that. But the most important thing is that the franchise believes in me. They know what I can do and what I have done in the past. I really want to make sure to have a mega season next year," Russell said.
Rinku's presence will give him the freedom to go out and play more freely, said the 35-year-old. "It's great to see someone like Rinku coming to the party and finishing games. That boosts my confidence going into next year. To have someone like me at the backend when the pressure is on I can just bat freely," he said.
West Indies comeback not ruled out
The last time Russell featured in an international match was in the T20 World Cup in 2021. With another edition of the tournament lined up at home in June 2024, the all-rounder has not ruled out a possible return in West Indies colours. "Once I'm selected I'll be ready to go. There have been some conversations going on between me and the coach (Daren Sammy) so if he stays true to his words, I'll be ready to play."
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