When West Indies play their first T20I against New Zealand in Auckland on Friday, they will do so without one of the format's best players in Andre Russell. Instead, Russell will be in Sri Lanka, where he will be competing for the Colombo Kings in the inaugural Lanka Premier League.
Russell declined selection for the tour back in October, but the circumstances surrounding his absence are increasingly unclear, not least after Phil Simmons, West Indies' head coach, said in a media briefing on Wednesday morning that he was unaware of Russell's whereabouts.
Asked for his take on Russell's participation in the league and the fact he is in Sri Lanka rather than taking part in the tour, Simmons responded: "Is he? That's news to me."
"I haven't spoken to him since we came down here [to New Zealand]," Simmons said. "He was at the IPL and I haven't spoken to him since then. I didn't know he was in Sri Lanka. I can't answer your question about that until I know what the whole situation is."
When West Indies announced their squads for the tour, CWI said that Russell, along with Lendl Simmons and Evin Lewis, had opted out of selection. "CWI fully respects their decision to choose to do so and states that this will not impact consideration for future selection," a media release said.
Roger Harper, the lead selector, said in a virtual press conference that Russell "said that he wasn't really handling the whole thing very well and that he needed some time to clear his head and get himself together because he's been going from one lockdown, so to speak, to another."
In a subsequent press conference, Harper suggested that Russell might struggle to regain his place in the T20I side if those on the tour impressed in his absence. "I think as we move forward we will look at all situations, all players and determine whether we need to continue to look at those players, continue to consider those players, or we need to move on," he said.
"A lot of things are determined by how well the team performs. I think if players in the team perform exceedingly well, then it will make it difficult for those that are not on the tour to get back into the team. So a lot of things will be taken into consideration as we move forward."
After being signed in the LPL draft, Russell initially withdrew from the tournament citing fitness issues, before declaring himself available again. Russell signalled towards the end of the IPL that he was some way short of full fitness following an injury, despite returning to the Kolkata Knight Riders side in time for their final group match against Rajasthan Royals.
He told Star Sports, the tournament's broadcaster, after that fixture that he had ""a grade two, grade three hamstring tear," but that he had rushed back after it had healed faster than expected. "When I looked at the scan, it was very ugly: that type of result, normally, would be six to eight weeks out," he said.
Russell then stayed in the UAE after the end of the tournament, posting photos on his Instagram account of himself and Chris Gayle at a Dubai nightclub, at a shisha bar, and with a local barber. He flew to Sri Lanka last week ahead of the LPL, with videos of him wearing the Colombo Kings jersey as part of a promotional photoshoot appearing on Tuesday.
Russell has been only a sporadic member of West Indies' T20I side in the last three years, regularly missing games in order to manage his injuries. Since August 2018, he has played only twice in the format, with both of his appearances coming in the series win against Sri Lanka earlier this year, and he does not have a CWI central contract.
West Indies' series in New Zealand starts at Eden Park on Friday night, while the Colombo Kings get their LPL season underway on Thursday.