5 days in the life of

JACK RUSSELL

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MONDAY: It's a good day for a trip to Victoria Falls. Such a sight can only lift the spirits. There is still an element of shock in the camp after we came so desperately close to winning the first Test against Zimbabwe yesterday. Unfortunately, the game finished as a draw with the scores level. That happens infrequently enough for it to have been the first time in 120 years of Test cricket. You couldn't make it up. Still, the team is in good spirits, eroded only slightly when one of the two pilots fails to show. He has malaria. The four who have seen the Falls before drop out but 14 of us still pack into a 12-seater plane. It is an artist's dream and I immediately put it on the list of places to which I promise to take my wife one day. So far all these promises have been hollow but now this one is in writing I shall have to keep it. I sit as co-pilot on the journey to Harare afterwards. The colours of the African sky are breathtaking.

TUESDAY: Overnight rain - more overnight rain, that is - means practice is cancelled. A painting trip to a place called Balancing Rocks not far out of the city proves fruitful. The result of my labours should mean another painting winging its way to my gallery in Chipping Sodbury. Since it opened in the High Street 18 months ago trade has been brisk. Painting is now my other profession. I've got plenty of cricket left in me but if I wanted to I would turn to painting. Nothing pleases me more than when somebody who has no idea I play cricket comes in and buys one of my works. I paint wherever I go and Africa has been fertile territory.

CHRISTMAS DAY: We're due to practise, which is as it should be. We're here to play cricket and there's an important game tomorrow. We can't get started until 2pm and then only for an hour. Tactical talk afterwards, but that has to remain confidential. Call the wife and children back home in Gloucestershire, including Catherine, our three-week-old daughter whom I have not yet seen. My timing is awful sometimes. I listen to them opening their presents and later listen to the Queen's Speech, with the phone at home pressed against the television. I'm a great monarchist. The new tourists put on a pantomime, extracting the Michael out of the old stagers. Robert Croft mimics me for the purposes of which I lend him my trusty hat - only because it's in the same room. Chris Silverwood does a superb Darren Gough and John Emburey and David Lloyd (first-time coach and manager) join in. It's all convivial and relaxed. Read a chapter of His Way, Brian Clough's autobiography, before turning in.

BOXING DAY: It's hard being out of the side. But I get up as usual prepared to play. Mornings of match injuries have happened before. You must be ready. You train as usual. I tend to beam in on Alec Stewart who's keeping wicket instead of me, trying to make sure he's got everything he needs. It gets harder. I've been left out before and come back and this time I'm more determined than ever to return. It's important for me to stay vibrant for the rest of the lads, the ones who are playing. It hurts but I have to conceal that. Do some 12th-man duties, making sure they have the correct drinks, have some net practice and do some shuttle runs. They keep me fit and on the first day of the match help me to let off steam, let rip my feelings. I always drink lots of tea and if I'm not playing the consumption goes up. It feels about 80 cups a day. The team don't do themselves justice. We know we've played badly; we can't get a grip on the match. I'm sure we're not suffering from Sunday's result but maybe our desire to take the match by the scruff of the neck works against us. Wickets keep falling. A deeply frustrating day. We've let ourselves and our fans down.

FRIDAY: Creepy (John Crawley) and Tuffers (Phil Tufnell) eke out some precious runs in the morning. Tuffers plays extremely well in support. My morning is made by having a chat with the actor Peter Vaughan, whom I last saw in the film Remains of the Day. He's a big cricket fan and we compare notes on the frustrations of our respective jobs. England bowl well, a couple of decisions go against us. There's still a positive mood, one that says we can win. There's a lot of cricket left on this tour and I've just got a sneaking feeling I'll get my chance yet.

Jack Russell MBE, the Gloucestershire and England wicketkeeper, is on tour in Zimbabwe.

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