Where will Andre Russell bat for Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2020?
Last year, the allrounder had expressed his frustration at the team management after being left with too few deliveries on too many occasions. And last month, the team's new mentor David Hussey said that Russell might just bat as high as No. 3 if the team needed him to. But according to head coach Brendon McCullum, Russell's potential as a batsman will be maximised if he bats in the back-end of a T20 innings, especially in a team where new recruit Eoin Morgan slots in as the bridge between the top order and the finishers.
"Eoin Morgan, from our point of view, was a fantastic get at the IPL auction because we wanted to provide a little bit of resource around Russell's six-hitting ability," McCullum said at a press interaction. "And we also probably wanted to a bit of leadership around the skipper Dinesh Karthik, and Morgan has obviously won the ODI World Cup for England and he's been a standout leader in world cricket.
"He was a guy we were desperate to get and him batting in the middle order around Andre Russell and around Dinesh Karthik provides us with a really, really strong middle order. The thing we want to pride ourselves on this year is also being a really smart team and utilise our resources based on the team and the match-ups required.
"Russell hit 54 [he hit 52] sixes last season. He came out of the telephone box on so many occasions. His game is definitely suited to probably the last ten overs of a T20 game where he can really control it. But there may be times where match-ups are right and we can enter Andre earlier up the order, but that will be a horses for courses type of approach. The good thing is we've got a lot of resources to choose from."
"Now he's free, he's an incredibly dangerous player, and is probably the best middle-order batsman in the short period. We're incredibly lucky to have him, and his relationship with DK will give us a good opportunity in the tournament" Brendon McCullum on Eoin Morgan
On the subject of Morgan, McCullum explained why Knight Riders bid so aggressively for the batsman - bought for INR 5,25 crore ($740,000 approx. at the time) - considering he had been an underachiever in the IPL in seasons past. Morgan represented Knight Riders between 2011 and 2013 where, in 22 innings, he had scored only 444 runs at a strike rate of 124.36.
"If we look at the first part of Eoin Morgan's career, I think that was his apprenticeship period, where he was good at times. If his career had to finish four-five years ago, you might have said he's not a good player," McCullum said. "But what you've seen in the last four-five years, is a player who has taken his belief in his game, and has led a nation and has completely changed how that whole country plays their cricket. He's also got the ultimate success of winning the ODI World Cup.
"Now when you see him bat, he is completely free. He his content with his game, he understands his game, and he's playing the game which he probably wanted to, when he was younger but didn't have the confidence to do so. Now he's free, he's an incredibly dangerous player, and is probably the best middle-order batsman in the short period. We're incredibly lucky to have him, and his relationship with DK will give us a good opportunity in the tournament."
As for the other Englishman in the squad, Tom Banton, McCullum cleared the air on what sort of role he is expected to play for Knight Riders in his rookie IPL season, while also hinting that he wouldn't be a first-choice overseas pick for the two-time champions. "Banton was a great pick at the auction," McCullum said. "Look he probably won't start for us in this campaign because we're going with a slightly different balance but what he does is gives you so many different options.
"He is a young man with all before him, he's already made a splash in international cricket. He is unique how he goes about his game, he's an exciting batsman, and can even shock and dominate the very best bowlers. When he gets his opportunity, I'm sure he will entertain the fans all around the world. I'm sure he'll get a chance at some stage later on in the tournament."
Knight Riders will be the last of the eight teams to get their campaign underway at IPL 2020, in the fifth match of the season, against Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi on September 23.