The Definitive: Jack Russell

Jack Russell, the greatest gloveman of his generation, describes the matches and catches that mattered to Jo Harman.

A change of role | 1974

I asked my coach at Stroud Cricket Club if I could be wicketkeeper on a practice night. At school I was a batsman and used to bowl but I got fed up of being down at third-man or fine-leg and I didn’t think the guy who was keeping was doing it very well. My coach David Mall agreed and I hogged the gloves for the rest of the summer. The gloves themselves didn’t have any rubber on them, they were just leather. They had no webbing so the ball would slip out but I don’t remember taking them off after that.

8 dismissals | Gloucestershire v Sri Lankans, Tour Match, Bristol, 1981

I was dragged out of an A-level exam to play and my first ball in first-class cricket went for four byes. I can still hear it hitting the advertising boards. It was wide down the leg-side by Mike Whitney. I thought the only way was up from there and I went on to get eight dismissals as a 17-year-old – I’m not sure if it’s still a record – so that was a pivotal moment.

94 | England v Sri Lanka, Only Test, Lord’s, 1988

West Indies had bashed England earlier in the summer and there were quite a few changes. I was one of four debutants; I was definitely picked for my keeping and went in as nightwatchman. I hadn’t got into the nineties before in first-class cricket and I would have been the first England keeper to score a hundred on debut but I was caught at cover on 94. I should have got a ton, it still bugs me, but it was great to run out at Lord’s on debut.

64* & 29 | England v Australia, Second Test, Lord’s, 1989

I got a couple of low scores in the first Test and would have been dropped if I hadn’t done well with the bat in this game. Richie Benaud wrote an article saying Merv Hughes had bounced me out and given me a rough time. He hadn’t, but Richie did me a favour because I knew what was coming and worked hard on the short ball, with Alan Knott and the MCC Young Cricketers bouncing me from 18 yards. I worked out a game plan and smacked a few runs.

128* | England v Australia, Fourth Test, Old Trafford, 1989

The team was in turmoil. The side was changing every week and they had just announced the rebel tour to South Africa, but I was so locked into trying to beat the Aussies that I wasn’t even aware of it. This was my maiden first-class century, but without the 64 not out at Lord’s it wouldn’t have happened. I would have been dropped without question but I went on to be named England’s Man of the Series.

30 & 3 dismissals | Australia v England, Third Test, Sydney, 1991

You don’t get leg-side stumpings standing up to fast bowlers in Test cricket very often, so I knew it was a special moment at the time. I was getting fed up with Dean Jones, he was getting down the pitch and being a pain in the rear, so I just wandered up to the stumps without even asking Gladstone Small. A couple of balls later it happened. The Aussies weren’t talking to us much in the field but Ian Healy was the next man in and he just walked up and shook my hand before he took guard.

83 | Gloucestershire v Lancashire, County Championship, Cheltenham, 1995

I’d been dropped by England a year-and-a-half previously. Ray Illingworth was the chairman of selectors – he’d announced it on Grandstand before I got home from the tour of West Indies – but he was sat in the marquee at Cheltenham with our committee watching the game and I batted so well that he picked me for the next Test. I think we were about 40-6 and I played well against a good attack.

29* & 11 dismissals | South Africa v England, Second Test, Johannesburg, 1995

Robin Smith had got caught at third-man, which I thought was a bit dumb, and I walked to the wicket about an hour into play on the last day. Athers (Mike Atherton) had that look in his eye that he was going to do it, so I just thought some idiot better hang around at the other end. God knows how I got to 29. I hit a four and I was so angry with myself. When Darrell Hair took the bails off I almost had a go at him; I was so locked up in the situation that I would have been there until midnight if I had to. I got the world record number of dismissals in the same match. I couldn’t sleep the night before I got the record. I needed one or two more dismissals the next day and sat up until 4am drinking tea and watching the lightning out of my hotel window.

124 & 38 | England v India, Second Test, Lord’s, 1996

Everyone wants to get on the honours board and I’d got close before, so it was nice to put that to bed. We were in trouble at 107-5 but I went out there, played aggressively, and got away with it. Graham Thorpe and me led the recovery and I went on the attack with some hooks and cuts, which meant Thorpey could just play his natural game.

31* & 4 dismissals | Gloucestershire v Somerset, NatWest Trophy Final, 1999

The West Country took over Lord’s. If we’d have lost, there’s no way we could have gone back down the M4. I remember the crowd singing ‘stand up if you’re from the West Country’ and about 90 per cent of the ground stood up. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I got Man of the Match – I don’t know why – but I got 30-odd which got us up to a reasonable score and then I took four catches.

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