New Delhi: Andre Russell's IPL stint with Delhi Daredevils has largely been spent recovering from a nagging hamstring injury. When he got a chance though, he smashed the ball around a fair bit and then, when he bowled, got smashed in return. Here, Russell speaks to Wisden India on Chris Gayle, his role model, Darren Sammy, his close friend, and the improving standards of West Indian cricket.
Andre, there's evidently a fair bit of talent in West Indian cricket. But why is it that guys like you, Kieron Pollard, Adrian Barath and others have not performed consistently?
I think it's got to do with the divide among the islands, which causes problems within the team. But at the same time, I think it's getting better. I think that in the next couple of years, we can dominate cricket again. Most of our boys are big. Yes, we are getting older, but at the same time, we are becoming more mature. We are also playing around the world, so we are gaining in experience, which we are taking back home. So in the next two years, or within the next year, we will cause a lot of damage. As you have seen in the series against Australia, we are getting closer and closer.
Is it correct to say that the best cricketers from the Caribbean today are made in the limited-overs' mould and not for Test cricket?
I don't think so. We have a good bunch of guys, including youngsters that are being groomed for Test cricket. And that's a good sign because earlier we had the same group of players playing all three formats of the game. But now we are starting to get specialists for Tests and T20s. I think we are doing a good job and working things out the right way. Give us a couple of years and you'll see for sure that West Indies will be in the top five.
We all know about the financial problems in West Indies cricket. How important is it for cricketers like yourself to earn your money in the IPL and other similar tournaments?
Money is important of course, but it's equally important to gain the experience of playing in different parts of the world, making a name and building a career. Coming to India has been great because the T20 World Cup is coming up in Sri Lanka, and one gets the opportunity to play against all the top cricketers in the IPL. The experience we gather will boost our confidence before the T20 World Cup.
The inter-island T20 competitions in the Caribbean have become really important too, haven't they? After all, IPL teams keep an eye out for players who do well at the Champions League T20.
Yeah, it is important. Everyone is keeping an eye on Caribbean cricketers at the Champions League. And it's good. It's all short and spicy and fun; there's very little room to make mistakes. Unlike the IPL, the CLT20 doesn't let you make mistakes because everything happens so quickly.
Let's talk about you specifically, Andre; every once in a way, you beat teams single-handedly and we think you're the next big thing. But then you start under-performing. Why does that happen?
I think it's got to do with confidence. The more I play, the more confident I get. When I started out, I would think of only playing the big shots, and then I would get out. That's not good when you are starting your career. Everyone in my team knows what I can do, so they are always asking me to back myself. At the end of the day, like Chris [Gayle] tells me, it's up to me. I can contribute a lot with the bat and in the field, so the main thing is not to lose focus.
The big guy from Jamaica is Chris Gayle. What's your equation with him like?
Well, I think it's got to do with how well you know Chris [laughs]. If you don't know him, you'll think he is bitter and arrogant. But I think he is the perfect guy. It takes a little time to understand him, because even when he is joking, he has a serious look on his face. So you'll think 'is he serious or is he joking?' You also don't know if he is speaking to you. But I like him and I like being around him. And when I am playing with him, maybe in Jamaica, I just don't want to fail. If he doesn't get runs at the top, I tell myself that I have to make up for it. And when I get out and come back to the dressing room, I don't really like to look at him because I think I have let him down. He is a fun guy; he's the perfect role model for any youngster.
Also a word on Darren Sammy - he's quite the unlikeliest captain in world cricket, isn't he? But you are quite close to him, and were together hammering India in Ahmedabad last year…
Darren and I are very good friends. Off the field, we spend a lot of time together, chatting and catching up. He's had a rough time. No cricketer wants to fail, - getting hit, dropping catches… It's terrible, especially if you are the captain. During those times, I would go up to him and say, 'hey Sam, I will be so happy for you once this tour ends and you can go back home, take a chill, regroup, and come back again'. That was during the India series last year and he was really going through a phase. I don't know if he was communicating with his mates. It was important to give him positive vibes. When we batted together in the Ahmedabad one-dayer, we fed off each other and smashed a few balls across the ropes. Both of us scored runs, and it was so good to see him relax. We pumped each other up. And then, as you saw during the Australia series, he came back well. That's what happens in cricket. One day you get out badly, the next day you get a hundred. He is captaining the team well, and I think he is becoming more and more confident as a captain. Hats off to Sam.
Before wrapping up, it's stupid to not ask a Jamaican about his musical preferences. Are you a reggae guy, do you make annual pilgrimages to 56 Hope Road [Bob Marley's house]?
Oh, I like all kinds of music. Reggae… I enjoy calypso and R&B… a little alternative music, even Indian music which makes you move to the beat. I enjoy listening to all kinds of music as long it sounds good. I tried singing in school, but after a couple of lines [laughs], I realised I was better at cricket.
Shamya Dasgupta is Senior Editor, Wisden India