ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
Fast and faster: Reset Russell's Cup tilt
The West Indies allrounder believes he is in the form of his life and is ready to show his best during the World Cup
Louis Cameron is a Melbourne-based journalist. A former Victorian Bushrangers fast bowler, Louis joined the cricket.com.au team with assistance from the Australian Cricketers' Association's Internship Program in 2016.
For a man whose default setting hovers between fast and very fast, Andre Russell has had to do a lot of waiting.
The mo-hawked Jamaican, set to enter this year's World Cup as the game's most dynamic player, scores faster than pretty much anyone, bowls faster than anyone who counts themselves a genuine allrounder and moves as fast in the field as anyone fortunate enough to boast something resembling his thickset, 185cm frame.
To say he turned heads at this year's Indian Premier League is to put it lightly. Russell became the first batter in the tournament's history to finish with a strike-rate above 200 (minimum five innings), achieving the feat while averaging 57. To put that into context, the only two players who averaged more than him at the 2019 IPL – David Warner and MS Dhoni, hardly slow coaches themselves – were left in his dust in terms of strike rate. Russell scored a jaw-dropping 205 runs per 100 balls faced. Warner, the tournament MVP, went at 144, and Dhoni 135.
After sending a warning to the world with the bat, it took him just six balls to cause carnage with the ball in England. Australian Usman Khawaja is seldom hurried, but a ferocious lifter from Russell smashed into his jaw and forced him to retire hurt in a practice match last week. Khawaja was okay, but the West Indian had left his mark.
Russell, who turned 31 last month, is a man in a hurry, and with good reason.
In 2017, right as he'd come into his own as one of the most prized short-form cricketers in the world on the back of stints in the Windies' 2016 World T20 triumph, in the IPL and in Australia's KFC Big Bash League, Russell was found guilty of missing three drugs tests. He was banned for 12 months.
His regret that he wasn't "more professional and more organised" is matched only by his exasperation at the label of being a drug cheat.
"A lot of people think that I was on steroids or taking banned substances. I feel bad inside because a lot of people don't know and they accuse me of (taking) drugs and I don't believe in those things," he explained.
"That can't help no cricketer. You can't swing the ball with steroids. You have to swing it naturally.
"You can be big and strong, but you still have to middle the ball. If you don't middle the ball you're going to get caught behind if you nick it."
Russell's belligerent cricketing style belies a thoughtful soul. He has vowed not to repeat his mistakes.
Talking to cricket.com.au the day before the West Indies' World Cup warm-up match in Southampton against Australia last week, Russell drew parallels with the situation returning duo Steve Smith and David Warner found themselves in after last year's Cape Town scandal.
Like the pair, Russell was subject to the inescapable and seemingly endless condemnation that snowballs, perhaps even becoming crueller than the punishment levelled out in the first place.
Yet, while Smith and Warner at least had an outlet to play in domestic T20 competitions around the world during their suspensions, Russell was completely banished from the game.
"Getting banned for a year really made me stronger," he said. "You look at David Warner and Steve Smith recently, that whole situation was different to mine where they still could play cricket in different leagues.
"Mine, I couldn't even visit a training facility. I feel like I did a murder.
"At the end of the day, fighting failures are things that all professional athletes have to deal with.
"I wouldn't want no other cricketer to experience what I experienced for that 12 months."
Having spent a whole year rubbed out of all cricket, Russell has slowly learnt patience.
His biggest worry is that his troublesome knees, while currently in good shape, won't stand up to the shift from 20-over to 50-over cricket. The Windies' World Cup opener against Pakistan on Friday will be his first ODI in a year and just his second since November 2015.
"I haven't played the longer format for a while, so I've been working extremely hard to make sure my body can get though 100 overs," said Russell, who has based his physical training regimen on programs used by NFL teams in the United States.
"I'm ready mentally and my body's feeling great. I've had knee problems in the past but now I'm happy where I'm at.
"The last time I was in the maroon colours, it didn't go well – my knees were acting up on me. So I'm giving God thanks for the opportunity where I'm in one piece and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable.
"I can run in, bowl and do everything that I love to do."
Along with Russell, Chris Gayle, another sometimes-outcast on the Windies' merry-go-round of enviable short-form talent, has also returned to international cricket in time for the World Cup. The pair is set to bookend a power-packed top order that also boasts the likes of Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer and Shai Hope – not household names, but players who have shown glimpses they're ready to take a leap.
But for now, Andre Russell is the one name World Cup teams may fear most.
"Based on what has happened in the IPL, a lot of teams definitely have Russell in the back of their minds, without a doubt," said Gayle. "He's an X-factor, very dangerous. He's the man."
The Windies are aiming for big things. Hope said they want to be the first team to post 500 in an ODI innings after they racked up 421 in a practice match against New Zealand. Russell contributed 54 off just 25 balls, slamming three sixes. Both Gayle and Russell say they can win this year's tournament, which they haven't done since the West Indian glory days.
"Of course," Russell said when asked if the Windies are capable of securing a third World Cup title and their first since 1979. "With the squad that we have here, the way that we've been gelling, I love the vibes, I love how everyone is focused and everyone is doing their thing.
"It's not tense, it's not tight, it's just relaxed and that's what we need.
"Our culture is (such that) once we're enjoying the game, we will hurt teams."