Jack Russell: Praise for 'one of the greatest' (28 October 1998)

28 October 1998

Jack Russell: Praise for 'one of the greatest'

By Julian Guyer

JACK Russell's decision to quit international cricket was met with sadness by some of his predecessors as England wicketkeeper.

His mentor, Alan Knott, paid a glowing tribute. The former Kent and England wicketkeeper, whose exploits in the Seventies inspired the young Russell to take up the gloves, was unstinting in his praise for his Gloucestershire successor.

"It's sad because he was a wonderful player. But he'll still be playing county cricket so he could come back.

"International cricket will miss his talents. He was one of the greatest keepers I've ever seen, both as a pure keeper and a wicketkeeperbatsman. What separates the top keepers from the rest is cat-like reactions. Jack was brilliant," said Knott, who has worked with Russell as a coaching advisor to the England Cricket Board.

"When he had that wonderful series in South Africa and broke Bob Taylor's record for most dismissals in a Test match there were two great moments - a brilliant catch diving way to his right to get rid of Jonty Rhodes off Angus Fraser and his speed in stumping Darryl Cullinan was phenomenal.

"He had great determination, great patience and controlled aggression which you saw in that same match where he battled away with the bat with Mike Atherton."

Knott felt his ECB post prevented him from commenting on the state of wicketkeeping in England which, in the light of Russell's decision, is bound to be seen as a less specialist task than it once was.

But Kent and England predecessor Godfrey Evans was under no such constraint. Evans, who kept in 91 Tests from 1946 to 1958 while setting a world record of 219 dismissals that stood for 18 years before Knott broke it in 1976, said Russell had been a victim of muddled thinking on the part of the selectors.

"Jack was very unlucky. When he came into the England side he was far and away the best keeper. For him then to be subsequently dropped and replaced by a part-timer in Alec Stewart must have been a terrible sleight.

"He was discarded not because of anything he'd done but because Alec was a better bat and they were trying to cover for the lack of a proper all-rounder.

"There was a terrible irony about all this: we were the worst Test team in the world and our one player of undeniable world class couldn't get into the side."

Evans, a resourceful batsman who made two Test centuries, was clear on where the balance of priorities lay for wicketkeepers. "The present situation worries me greatly. We must get our keepers keeping and treat any good batting on their part as a bonus."

There is nothing new about wicketkeepers being overlooked for Tests because of batting weaknesses. Keith Andrew, of Northants, was one of the most correct and unobtrusive keepers of the Fifties and Sixties yet he played in only two Tests because of his rivals' superior run-scoring.

A former director of coaching at the National Cricket Association, Andrew said: "I've always been a great fan of Jack's because he's a real pro, a wicketkeeper of the old school. He was in the team when I was running the England Under-19 side and it was obvious he was in a different class.

"He's flown the flag for real wicketkeeping in recent years though Alec Stewart is a better keeper than he's given credit for. It's amazing, though, how many selectors talk about wicketkeeping as if they know something about it."

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)