Russell relishes the perfect setting for expression of his art

Derek Pringle on the record-breaking performance of England's wicketkeeper
Click to follow
The Independent Online
After practice, the day before England fatefully decided to field in this Test match, Jack Russell stood close to the spot where he was to make history four days later. The vast Wanderers stadium was empty, but that did not matter. Russell was there to photograph the ground, something he does at every Test venue, just in case, as he puts it, "the need to paint it, ever arises".

"Well, I suppose I've got to do it now, haven't I," he chirped yesterday, his eyes gleaming with mock quizzicality from above the permanently up- turned collar. "I've never painted a ground from my view behind the stumps before. I think this might be the one to do." Russell wears his success well, if not quite as snugly as his record-breaking gloves, which he thinks are now just about broken in, and will no doubt see him through to the end of his career.

Now happily re-installed as England's wicketkeeper, Russell bears no malice towards those whose selection policies forced him from the England side he first played for at Lord's in 1988. "Actually, I really think being left out did me good. It stopped me from worrying about failure. I now play every game as if it is my last and go out there determined to enjoy it."

Like Bob Taylor, whose record 10 dismissals Russell had just broken, the Gloucestershire man paid tribute to both the pitch, with its long carry, and the bowlers that provided his 11 dismissals, each caught, 10 of them standing back.

Ian Botham's outswing, still potent in 1980, provided eight of Taylor's victims in the steamy humidity of the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay. Unsurprisingly, six of Russell's came from the snarling Dominic Cork, whose indefatigable swing away from the right-handers has looked just as capable of finding the outside edge as that of England's greatest wicket-taker in his pomp.

"Yeah, Corky is beautiful to keep to. His natural shape means he doesn't push you down the leg-side much. Because you get used to moving the same way, it allows me to make half a yard on edges to my right." The stunning diving catch that did for Jonty Rhodes in South Africa's second innings was a good example, and would have shaved first slip's right shin had he been there.

Russell, his quest for perfection hidden behind a quiet quirkiness that borders on the crackpot - he used to insist his lunchtime Weetabix had to be soaked for exactly eight minutes before he came off the field - would still have baulked at the two spilled chances.

"Alan Knott, who phoned me just the other night, told me that like the good ones you take, dropped catches have to be forgotten straight away. Mind you I think I'll struggle to keep that 11th one out of my head for a bit." With the prospect of Clive Eksteen's nick thunking into his gloves, and the little hop and hugs from his team-mates recurring for some while to come, Russell was up and off to find a cup of tea. "Best way to celebrate, though I might crack a bit of bubbly later with the lads."

Most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in a Test

11 Jack Russell (England) v South Africa, Johannesburg, 1995.

10 Bob Taylor (England) v India, Bombay, 1980.

9 Gilbert Langley (Australia) v England, Lord's, 1956.

9 David Murray (West Indies) v Australia, Melbourne, 1981.

9 Rodney Marsh (Australia) v England, Brisbane, 1982.

9 Amal Silva (Sri Lanka) v India, Colombo (First Test), 1985.

9 Amal Silva (Sri Lanka) v India, Colombo (Second Test), 1985.

9 Dave Richardson (South Africa) v India, Port Elizabeth, 1992.

9 Rashid Latif (Pakistan) v New Zealand, Auckland, 1994.

Comments