English cricketing eccentrics, No. 3 – Jack Russell

I should nail my colours to the mast at the outset – Jack Russell was one of my cricketing heroes growing up. As a young wicketkeeper, watching him swooping around behind the stumps for Gloucestershire at my home ground at Cheltenham was inspirational. I even hung around to get his autograph at his testimonial game in 2004 and I have one of his wonderful prints on my wall. So the description that is to follow is borne of affection rather than ridicule. Why give this disclaimer, you ask? Because Robert Charles ‘Jack’ Russell is quite an odd fellow.

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Frankly the hat has aged better than the kit.

‘Eccentric’ is almost certainly the best word – he doesn’t like the phrase himself, insisting that all the things he does are “logical and natural”. That may be so, but it bears some of the hallmarks of being obsessive-compulsive. All of Russell’s strange behaviour had sensible roots, but he would take everything to its logical extreme. For instance, he liked his “flowerpot” hat and found it comfortable. Fair enough, but Russell’s logical extreme? He wore it in every match in his career bar his debut, endlessly repairing it with old cricket trousers, leading to a George-Washington’s-axe-type conundrum as to whether it was still the same hat by the end. Such was his dedication to it that he threatened to not play in the 1996 World Cup if he wasn’t allowed to wear it (the ICC were insisting on compliant blue caps). In the end, the authorities conceded defeat and Russell was given dispensation to wear the hat, so long as it had the Three Lions stitched on it. Such an ancient hat needed careful looking after – it was starched, stitched and carefully dried using a biscuit jar and tea cosy to hold the shape. However, away from home, he had to make do with more makeshift arrangements, on one occasion in 1994 putting it in the oven to dry. The hat predictably caught fire and required emergency repairs for it to live to fight another day.
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