Tale of a troubled, honest craftsman

Jack Russell Unleashed - Barking? by Jack Russell (HarperCollins, pounds 15.99)
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So this is what all the fuss was about. One man's views of other men and events, good and bad, as they affected him and shaped his own life. In a country which prides itself on freedom of the individual, speech and thought, it is risible that anyone, particularly in something as lightweight as sport and leisure, should be gagged by his governing body.

It is enough to make one - well, gag.

The serialisation in a national newspaper of this much publicised autobiography goaded cricket's governing body to instruct a legal eagle to go through it with a fine-toothed comb, trying to pin a charge of disrepute or some such on the Gloucestershire and England wicketkeeper.

The English Cricket Board's legal man had the good sense to pronounce Russell innocent of any such nonsensical charge. There is no malice contained in these pages. What emerges from the book is that Russell is a man of sense and sensibility. What he has produced, with the able services of the BBC's Pat Murphy (a veteran of 34 books), is the sometimes humorous, more often poignant, tale of a troubled, yet honest, genius. Russell bares not only his cricket soul, he also peels away some of the more private layers.

He confesses, for example, to having contemplated suicide. A disturbing moment. Mortality and man's vulnerability are recurring themes. His relating of the death of his younger brother, David - to whom the book is dedicated - is moving. Its effect on Russell was clearly devastating - and lasting.

If he is critical of the former chairman of selectors, Ray Illingworth, and - reading between the many lines - not exactly enamoured of the England captain, Michael Atherton, at times, it is nothing to how harsh he can be on himself. He admits he used to keep a record of every mistake he made in a match, jotting it down in what he calls his log. It was only when that log was lost that this particular obsession was discarded. Yet he also has an innate sense of fun and he does laugh at himself.

Ritual matters a lot to many sportsmen. To Russell it matters even more. "I don't like the normal order to be overturned," he says. Perhaps that is why premature death disturbs him. It is out of the norm. Of course the normal order is his very personal and specific perception. He also has a deep-seated sense of fair play and justice, and that certainly comes through.

Given the above it would be easy to accord Russell the status of eccentric. He appears happy to be regarded as such and generally everyone obliges him by describing him so.

People may mock the man for his fads and deride him for his rare failures. But why not, instead, judge the man through his book, and learn that perhaps he has it right and the rest of us are out of kilter with life. That we are the eccentrics. Barking he may be, but what if he is barking up the right tree?

David Llewellyn