West Indian duo Andre Russell and Akeal Hosein were instrumental in the Melbourne Renegades’ final over win against the Brisbane Heat on Wednesday night, further vindicating the club’s recruitment of the overseas players this season.
When news broke that the Renegades’ first pick in the inaugural BBL Draft, Liam Livingstone, would be unavailable for the tournament, it loomed as a defining blow to a team starved of on-field success in recent years.
Yet a perfect 3-0 record to begin BBL|12 now has the Renegades firmly in the conversation as one of the genuine contenders for silverware.
Much of the credit for this stunning turnaround can be directed to the franchise’s astute off-season recruitment, including the swift acquisition of a replacement for the Pakistan-bound Livingstone.
Whilst experienced heads Aaron Finch and Nic Maddinson have produced masterful knocks in these early season fixtures, there’s no questioning the influence of the Renegades’ international signings, who have added a new flavour and dimension to a previously struggling outfit.
In a wild contest at GMHBA stadium on Wednesday, the x-factor provided by a pair of West Indians lifted the Gades to their best start to a campaign since BBL|02.
The crafty Akeal Hosein collected figures of 3-26, bamboozling batters with his unpredictable variations. He then proceeded to hit a quickfire 30 runs off 19 balls late in his side’s batting innings, breaking the back of a tricky run chase.
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However, the main headlines belonged to Andre Russell, who dragged the Renegades from the brink of disaster to a gutsy four-wicket victory.
Arriving at the crease with his team precariously placed at 4/9, Russell shifted the course of the match, utilising his devastating power to compile a crucial 57 runs off 42 deliveries.
Opting to fight fire with fire, the 34-year-old took on a rampant Michael Neser, whacking him for three sixes moments after he’d just secured a hat-trick. This included a monstrous 103m six which was deposited out of the ground.
Speaking post-match, Russell explained the reasoning behind his attacking mindset.
“To be honest I [had] no idea what was going on. I know that a wicket fell and then [Jonathan],Wells went in, I was just rushing to come to the dugout to have a seat,” Russell recalled.
“And then I saw him leave alone a ball on the stumps. I wasn’t even ready, I stepped across the [boundary] line with two bats. I don’t know if a lot of people [saw] that, I went out in a rush, but on the way walking out I just tried to stay as calm as possible.
“The ball was nipping around, swinging around, and I just decided that I’m going to be positive and get the pressure off my back.
“I don’t think the best way to go about it is to go and block. I think for me [it’s about] being positive and taking the pressure off the batting team and trying to put the bowlers under pressure.”
This strategy clearly came to fruition on a topsy-turvy night in Geelong, seeing Russell record two fours and six maximums in a player of the match performance. It means that the Renegades are still yet to taste to defeat in BBL|12, joining the Adelaide Strikers as the only teams to remain undefeated.
Despite his brief four-game stay on Australian soil nearly reaching its conclusion, Russell said that he intended to make as many meaningful contributions as possible from the outset.
“The plan was to actually come here and give the Renegades a good start,” he said.
“When I was talking to my agent about the contract and four games I was like ok it would be amazing to leave with four wins. We are on the right road, just a few days away from our next game.
“I think the guys have been playing some good cricket and [have been] positive as well.”
Russell’s signature has been part of a shift in direction from David Saker and his recruitment team ahead of BBL|12, who have looked to add more proven T20 cricket performers to the Renegades squad.
Beyond Russell and Hosein, the Gades now boast the likes of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Jonathan Wells, Tom Rogers, and will soon welcome veteran Martin Guptill to the fold following Russell’s departure.
This has culminated in a more well-balanced blend of experience and youth, reducing the workload of the younger players who have shouldered significant responsibility in recent seasons.
Russell believes that an important part of his role has been imparting some of his wisdom on the younger members of the playing group.
“It’s good to come along, show my experience with these youngsters in the change room as well. I’ve been having good conversations with the youngsters not just about cricket but about life and everything.”
The Melbourne Renegades will be looking to extend their unbeaten streak when they face the Hobart Hurricanes at Blundstone Arena on December 24.
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