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.