INTERVIEW: KEEPER OF THE ARTS

Published October 15, 2017
Jack Russell’s two great loves: wicket-keeping and painting
Jack Russell’s two great loves: wicket-keeping and painting

Robert Charles Russell, popularly known as Jack Russell, represented England in 54 Tests and 40 ODIs. He remained a stalwart player and member of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club throughout his cricketing career. His epic leg side stumping off a quickie — Gladstone Small in one of the Ashes Test matches — will remain unforgettable. After hanging up his gloves he turned his longtime hobby, painting, into a new career.

How did you start out in cricket?

Jack Russell: When I was young, I loved football as well but I was better at cricket and fell in love with it.

Jack Russell opens up on his love for Peshawar, his unorthodox batting stance, and missing out on a hundred on debut

You played your first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s and made 94 on your first outing. Were you content with a 94-run knock or depressed about missing out on a hundred?

JR: It still annoys me that I didn’t score at least six more runs. I would have been the first wicket-keeper in England to score a hundred on debut. That eventually went to Matt Prior. It was my highest first-class score at the time, so I reckon I did okay, but a century would have been nice.

You had a very unconventional batting stance. Did you receive any criticism about it from ‘purists’?

JR: I got criticism from my own county coaches! They couldn’t understand what I was doing. The square on stance started at Lord’s in a Test match against Pakistan when I tried to unsettle Mushtaq Ahmed. If you look carefully, I come round to a side on position in time to play the ball properly. As long as you score the runs; who cares? So I didn’t listen to the criticism.

Do you know there is a left-handed Pakistani batsman, Fawad Alam, who has a Test average of 41.66 in three Tests and more than 10,000 first class runs with an average of 56.51 to his name and yet he fails to get the selectors nod because of his ‘unconventional’ batting stance. Do you have any advice for him?

JR: Shivnarine Chanderpaul has done well on that stance, and he’s still going! I don’t know Alam, but the selectors should take note, they’re the ones with the problem. They should give reasons for not picking him.

Tell us something about your first tour to Pakistan.

JR: I loved it! I miss going to Pakistan. I had a great time, apart from only playing a couple of days’ cricket in eight weeks. But I was told at the start that I was reserve to Bruce French so just got on with it and enjoyed it. I made my ODI debut at Peshawar so I do have a soft spot for that part of the country in particular. I loved painting and sketching while I was in Pakistan and I also caught up with my old Gloucestershire teammate Zaheer Abbas. I was made to feel very welcome all round and it was a wonderful experience; as was the World Cup in 1996.

In 1987, you saw the Shakoor Rana and Mike Gatting row from close quarters. In your opinion, who was at fault and why did the incident get ‘out of hand’?    

JR: I was doing twelfth man duties in the changing room at the time so I didn’t actually see the incident. It all got out of hand for some reason in the days that followed. I wasn’t present at the negotiations that went on so don’t know what happened.

Is it true that you lived on baked beans and ‘instant’ soup on tours? 

JR: Yes, it’s true. I never eat local food, even when I go abroad these days.

What is your take on T20 cricket? Do you think you would’ve played and enjoyed the shortest version?

JR: I played a couple of games for Gloucestershire before I retired. I would have found a way to play it, although wouldn’t hit as many sixes as they do now. T20 teams can afford to play their best wicket-keeper because you shouldn’t need all your batsmen in 20 overs.

Were you superstitious about your cricket gear?

JR: No, all my gear was the way it was for a reason. It was all comfortable and did the job for me. The only cricketing superstition I would admit to is walking the left hand side of the wicket between overs. I never walked on the right, even when I was a youngster.

Any interesting cricketing story that you would like to share?

JR: Too many! They’re all in my book The Art of Jack Russell: A personal Journey Through 18 Counties.

Did you know that in spite of a large number of Tests being played today, you’re still ranked fifth in the list of English wicketkeepers with the most Test dismissals?

JR:  No, I didn’t know that.

Your highest and lowest points of cricket life? Any regrets?

JR: Highest — Batting as a night watchman, I made 94 for England against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on my Test debut in 1988. My world record when I took 11 catches behind the stumps against South Africa in the Johannesburg Test in 1995. In the same match I batted most of the last day with my captain, Mike Atherton, to save the match. Scoring an unbeaten hundred at Old Trafford in the 1989 Ashes series. A century against India at Lord’s in 1996. Winning several trophies at Lord’s with my county Gloucestershire.

Lowest — Every time I was dropped by England. My early retirement due to an injury in 2004.

Only regret — Giving my wicket away in my first Test innings when I was batting on 94.

What does painting mean to you?

JR: Very important now that the cricket has gone. It’s another thing I love doing.

In 1996, you sat with a vendor in a crowded market in Peshawar and made a painting. How was the experience? As an international cricketer who visited the place, how does it make you feel to see the reluctance of cricket boards to send their teams to Pakistan?

JR: I loved every minute of my stay in Pakistan. Everyone was so kind to me. It’s a shame more tours don’t go to Pakistan but it is up to the Pakistan Cricket Board to insure that security is of the highest order. The problem is that no matter where you go in the world these days security is always a problem that has to be dealt with. It’s even a problem in our own country! So you just have to get on with life and get on with playing cricket.

How’d you like to be remembered? As a cricketer or a painter?

JR: As long as people enjoyed watching me play and enjoying looking at my painting that’s good enough for me. It makes living worthwhile.

The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 15th, 2017

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