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Jack in action for England in the West Indies

In the second instalment of our “Childhood Heroes” feature, Harry Harland was able to fire a few proverbial googlies down at former Gloucestershire and England wicketkeeper Jack Russell.

Jack played 54 tests and 40 ODIs for England in a ten year international career, before retiring from international cricket and starring for Gloucestershire as the county won 3 NatWest Trophies in just 5 years. Since fully retiring in 2004, he has turned to his other great passion: art. His paintings can be found at the Jack Russell Gallery in Chipping Sudbury (near Bristol), or can be viewed online at www.jackrussell.co.uk/

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Who was the best bowler that you faced?

Malcolm Marshall (right).  Not only did he bowl at 90 odd miles an hour, but he swung the ball both ways.  Also, he was a very intelligent, clever bowler.  With fast bowlers, that isn’t always the case!

I remember watching you almost single-handedly save a game with a century against India at Lords, was that your favourite test innings?

It’s certainly one of them.  To score a hundred for your country on the greatest cricketing stage of all is very special. Scoring my first test hundred against Australia in an Ashes series is also up there.  It’s difficult to choose between the two!

Were there any of your county team-mates who should have been given more of a chance at international level?

Probably, but you have to earn the right.  If you perform well enough, for long enough, then in theory you should get a go.

You didn’t seem to like opposition batsmen touching the ball when you were keeping. Was this a superstition or was it mind games?

True. It used to make me angry with them, purely because we (as a fielding side) wanted to be in total control.  It was our ball, and we didn’t want anyone playing with it!   Likewise, I didn’t like our batters picking the ball up and giving it to a fielder, or bowler.  They’re fielding, let them pick it up!   It was psychological  warfare!!!

What was the funniest bit of sledging that you encountered in your career?

Northants couldn’t get me out at Bristol one day, so after tea, every single Northants player came out wearing a great big black moustache, so as to try and break my concentration.  The problem was, everyone was laughing, including me inside my helmet. I kept my concentration, but couldn’t see the ball for the tears in my eyes.

You had a wonderful moustache, whose moustache in the game did you most respect?

Merv Hughes probably had one of the best

Two masters of the moustache…

What do you make of England’s current strength in the wicket-keeping department?

We’ve got good strength in depth in all departments. That’s one of the reasons why we are the best test team in the world at the moment

What do you make of T20? As a spectacle, I quite enjoy it, but it doesn’t compare to a test match. Does it disappoint you that two of the West Indies’ most gifted players (Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard) have shunned test cricket to play in the IPL?

T20 has a place in our game, no question.  But there has to be a balance.  Test cricket is still the real test of a player.  You can understand why some players want to play 20 overs each rather than 5 days of a slog and get a 100 times the money for doing so. That’s what you call a ‘mercenary cricketer’, a bit like a bounty hunter.  That’s fine, everyone is entitled to earn a living. But it’s not the real test of a cricketers true character and abilities in my eyes (apart from playing under pressure).   But good luck to them. I will always judge them on their first class record.

You regularly stood-up to fast bowlers. How often did that involve some degree of pain for you?

Yes, but that went with the territory. The rewards and satisfaction far outweighed any physical pain

Now that you’ve retired, do you still get as much lifetime out of a tea bag as you used to? (Jack was famously reported to be able to get up to 100 cups of tea out of one bag while on tour)

I can if the situation needs it.  When you are stuck on the North West Frontier for several weeks you have to learn to survive!

Other than tea bags, what were your essential items that you used to take on winter tours with you?

My hat and gloves.  I never let them out of my sight.  I never put them in the hold of an aircraft for any journey I made with England, they always came in my hand luggage on the plane.  The smell from the gloves disturbed a few passengers on occasions.  As for food, I can survive anywhere in the world on cold tins of baked beans (for lunch) and ambrosia creamed rice pudding (evening meal).  And I need tea!

Your legendary sunhat. Where is it now? Has it taken up gardening duties?

The hat is still alive, just.  It’s in a safe place with my old gloves.  (Neither would stand up to gardening duties!).

You’re now a full time artist, who were the biggest influences on your style of painting and sketching?

Rembrandt and Constable were the two that inspired me most, plus a great painter called David Shepherd (wildlife, elephants, trains etc), who is still painting in his 80′s.  He taught himself to paint from scratch through sheer determination and dedication. There are others I admire, such as John Singer Sergeant, Trevor Chamberlain, Edward Seago, James Whistler,  the list goes on.

Snow at the Brook, Luckington

You seem to do a wide variety of paintings, ranging from landscapes, to portraits and (obviously) cricket. What is your current muse with regard to subject matter?

I like to paint anything with atmosphere, no matter where it is.  Reflection in water, fog, I love skies, sunsets, anything that is challenge to recreate depth on a flat canvas surface.  I’m just finishing a picture of Goodison Park which I have been working on, in between painting a picture of every ground I played county cricket at (for a new book). I’m on K for Kent at the moment! (70 grounds to paint in total).

And finally… If you had to choose between painting and cricket, which one gives you the most satisfaction?

Cricket every time, but it takes me five minutes to touch my toes now, so I know those days have gone. You couldn’t buy the experiences I had while playing, there’s nothing in the world like it!  But I do get a big buzz out of painting, especially when someone comes along and wants to put one of my pictures on their wall.  That’s a magic feeling!!!

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Trivial Pursuits would like to thank Jack Russell for his time in kindly talking to us. We can thoroughly recommend having a look at some of his paintings here: www.jackrussell.co.uk/

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