Keeper mixes value and a sense of fun

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The Independent Online
Of all the cricketers playing today no one communicates a greater sense of fun and enjoyment than Jack Russell. His infectious enthusiasm makes for irresistible watching, whether he is keeping wicket or batting, and makes for inevitable comparisons with Alan Knott.

In either capacity Russell is a busy cricketer. He does not fidget quite as much as Knott and his stretching exercises while keeping are not quite so exaggerated, but as a keeper he would undoubtedly have to doff his cap to Knott.

As a batsman though, his cheeky, wristy improvisations match anything that Knott ever managed. Like Russell, Knott had a slightly crouching stance exaggerating an impish appearance which must in turn have frustrated and infuriated many opposing bowlers.

The comparisons are endless for both have the same slight figure and both have relished every opportunity to get into the game. Whether racing up to the stumps to take a throw-in or scampering a quick single or digging out a nasty yorker they so obviously loved what they were doing. They both looked a trifle frail at the crease too, which has given bowlers the false impression that they can be disposed of easily enough.

The Indians must have felt this with Russell at Lord's. As a result when Russell kept on playing the ball away off his legs with perfect timing or launching into a straight or an off-drive, strokes which he seems to play almost on the walk with equal ease, it can only have raised the bowlers' blood pressure.

Besweatered and with his slightly ungainly stance Russell has played as well if not better than anyone in the team. One important aspect of his batting, something which is not always obvious when illustrious players score runs, is the way in which he batted for his side.

Towards the end of play on the first day when Graham Thorpe became marooned for a while, Russell was quick to start pushing the ball around so that the scoreboard was kept moving and the pressure was taken off Thorpe who was able to wait for his touch to return rather than having to try and force it and risk getting himself out.

The same thing happened again when Chris Lewis came in on the second morning and was unable to find his touch. Russell kept the runs coming and this enabled Lewis to take his time - although, in his case, form continued to elude him. Also Russell, like Knott again, is a batsman who never wastes the chance of a quick single and overall their entertainment value has made them worth the gate money on their own.

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