Cricket: Russell full of skill and impertinence

Gloucestershire v Hampshire
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The Independent Online
THE TITLE of the "Man with the Strangest Stance in county cricket" is not one to be sneezed at. Previous holders have included John Carr, Peter Willey and Derek Randall, all considerable performers.

The present holder, unchallenged, is Gloucestershire's Jack Russell - and he has added a factor.

While the three above presented a message of obduracy to the bowler - "remove me if you can" - Russell's positioning carries an air of impertinence, even insolence. He begins by shaping up normally, bat in crease, side- on, and then, as the bowler starts his run, straightens up, turns himself chest-on down the wicket and holds his bat waist-high, just above the horizontal.

A really fast bowler would probably york him. He does not meet too many on the county circuit, just as he rarely bats on truly fast pitches. He will be 36 next week but that brilliant eye and coordination, gifts that helped him become the outstanding English wicketkeeper after the retirement of Bob Taylor, are still with him.

He first irritated Hampshire early on Thursday afternoon, arriving when Gloucestershire were 120-4, hung around for 96 overs and was still there, perky and provocative, when the innings ended to the penultimate ball before lunch, 94 not out, scored in 383 minutes with seven fours.

Hampshire's one genuinely fast bowler, Nixon McLean, is absent with a bruised toe and their fast-medium battery were mostly nonplussed by Russell although the veteran Peter Hartley made no secret of his ire by firing the odd ball just past Russell's nose. His response was to throw his head back as if expansively sniffing and enjoying, through his moustache, the summer air.

Gloucestershire had four wickets remaining, with the new ball due, when they resumed on 265 and their final and possibly match-winning total of 380 was achieved almost entirely by Russell's leadership of the tail. He was admirably supported by the left-handed Mike Cawdron, a surprisingly fluent No 8, and the other bowlers, a resistance typical of this Gloucestershire side.

Hampshire would have lost Derek Kenway right away to a run out had cover's throw been accurate - it was Russell's turn to look furious - and soon afterwards a light but steady drizzle arrived.