Russell, the great eccentric, draws stumps

It is difficult to believe that English cricket will ever produce another Jack Russell.

It is difficult to believe that English cricket will ever produce another Jack Russell.

Those who followed the career of the former England wicketkeeper will have admired his superb glove-work and the huge role he played in bringing one-day success to Gloucestershire. A persistent back injury has brought an end to the 40-year-old's illustrious career, but Russell can retire knowing that he was the best England wicketkeeper since Bob Taylor.

But those of us who shared a dressing-room with Jack have a slightly different view of his 23-year career. He was the most eccentric cricketer I ever played with and, at times, it was difficult to work out whether he was cuckoo or whether it was all part of an act.

Despite his corner of the dressing-room resembling the front of a charity shop on a Monday morning, Jack knew exactly where everything was. His kit bag would contain little plastic boxes full of sewing equipment and pimpled rubber so that he could repair any piece of gear.

There would also be a box of cereal, tea bags and biscuits stuffed under his chair. Jack rarely trusted the food at grounds, especially on tour, and his lunch on match days consisted of two Weetabix, which had to be soaked in milk eight minutes before he came off the field. He could tell when they had been in for only five minutes and on these occasions the 12th man was in for a rollocking. He would also use the same tea bag for the 20 or so cuppas he would drink during a Test match.

It was not just at the ground where his diet caused amusement among his team. When England toured Australia in 1994-95, Jack used to go into the same Chinese restaurant each evening and order the same dish. On each occasion he asked for chicken and cashew nuts, with the cashews taken out.

Jack made his first-class debut for Gloucestershire as a 17-year-old in 1981 and played his first Test for England in 1988. In his early days he used to be a bit of a party animal, but this came to an end after a lecture and the threat of the sack from a Gloucestershire coach.

In another era Jack would have played more than 54 Test matches, but it was unfortunate that his career coincided with that of Alec Stewart. And it was Stewart's elevation to captain in 1998 that brought an end to his international career.

His hero was Allan Knott - another eccentric - and his relationship with the former England keeper had a profound effect on his character and career. The pair would pay great attention to detail, but while Knott's quirkiness was generally cricket-related, Russell's was more concerned with matters off the field.

Watching the pair practise was unbelievable. Before England's 1998 tour of the West Indies, Knott worked with Russell and, together, they would attempt to simulate pitches and outfields in the Caribbean. With a selection of rubber shower mats and wooden boards with lumps on them they would try to produce a surface which produced inconsistent bounce. Like two small children, they would disappear into the corner of the indoor school at Old Trafford and plan their playground. When it was ready, Knott would run in from 15 yards and throw the ball on to the surface. If Jack took it cleanly, he would be applauded for a great take; and if not, he was sympathised with.

Though the rest of the squad ridiculed the pair from the balcony, this practice paid off because it prepared Jack for standing up to the stumps against medium-pacers. And it was this, along with the aggressive nature of the fielders under his guidance, which turned Gloucestershire into the best one-day side in England.

Behind the stumps Jack acted like the catcher in baseball. He was the playmaker and, through hand-signals, he would tell his bowlers what delivery to bowl. These tactics, and Russell's general behaviour, made him a pain in the backside to opponents. This was something he relished and, looking straight ahead, with his eyes hidden by sunglasses, he would regularly make caustic remarks to you as the bowler made his way back to his mark.

His behaviour was at its most bizarre on tour. He kept a diary of how he kept wicket, detailing how many balls he dropped every day. On one occasion, when I was sharing a room with him, he locked himself in his room for two days as punishment for dropping a catch.

This is not a practice used by many cricketers, but it worked in 1995-96. Later on that tour Jack took 11 catches at The Wanderers in Johannesburg and broke the record for the most dismissals in a Test. Though his batting was ugly, he scored many useful runs for England and in the same Test it was he who kept Michael Atherton company during his match-saving innings of 185.

Rooming with him was a nightmare. Russell did not trust the hotel to wash his gear correctly, which meant that there were jockstraps, underpants and vests constantly hanging from lights and televisions.

Jack seldom left his room after dark and was invariably asleep when you came in. In an effort not to wake him you would quietly aim for the bedside light, but the brush of a wet jockstrap against your arm as you reached for the switch quickly put you off this idea.

On the 1994 tour of the Caribbean, Jack's house-keeping provided myself and Devon Malcolm with one of our funniest moments. His beloved white hat - which, in 1998, nearly led to him returning home after Lord Maclaurin told England he wanted every player to wear a blue cap - needed a wash and in an attempt to dry it quickly he put it in the oven. Jack forgot about the hat before screaming as he rushed into the kitchen of our apartment. With Devon and me wondering what all the commotion was about, Jack pulled his hat out on a baking tray. It looked burnt and when he touched the top it collapsed as though it was puff-pastry. To correct the disaster he considered flying out his wife.

In retirement, Jack can become the recluse he has always wanted to be, though he will continue to paint and sell his art at his gallery in Chipping Sodbury. But getting builders to help construct the next extension at his home will be difficult. During the last work there he would blindfold them before they arrived and left his home so they did not know where he lived. In Jack's world, this seemed the obvious thing to do.

Suggested Topics
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss