World Cup mavericks: Jack Russell, keeper with a paintbrush

The quirky Englishman who used one teabag for 20 cups

55-Jack-Russell Illustration: Job P.K.

Wriddhiman Saha would sympathise with Jack Russell. The Englishman, whom many considered the best gloves-man in the country, would often make way for Alec Stewart, who was better with the bat.

But that is where Saha would stop. Though wicketkeepers are known to be an eccentric bunch, Russell would be a “bit too out there” even for them. Apparently, he once blindfolded construction workers coming to and leaving his house so that they would not know where he lived. Angus Fraser, his former English teammate, wrote this for The Independent in 2004: “There would be a box of cereal, tea bags and biscuits stuffed under his chair. Jack rarely trusted the food at grounds, especially on tour, and his lunch on match days consisted of two Weetabix, which had to be soaked in milk eight minutes before he came off the field. He would also use the same tea bag for the 20 or so cuppas he would drink during a Test match.”

If food on tours made him jittery, one could only imagine what he went through during the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent. On the field, he pouched seven catches and affected a stumping, but off it he indulged in a passion that had grown out of the boredom of sitting in the pavilion when rain interrupted play. He would wander the cities to find subjects he could pour onto his canvas. There is a photo of him sitting―with his bushy moustache and baggy shorts―in the middle of a vegetable market in Peshawar, painting a fruit seller.

Russell ended his playing career with more than 2,000 runs and north of 200 dismissals. He then had coaching jobs in goalkeeping, with the Forest Green Rovers in the Conference National; and wicketkeeping, with Gloucestershire. Art, however, had him it its grip, and eventually led him to establishing the Jack Russell Gallery in Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire. His collection includes landscapes, wildlife and sport, and portraits featuring the likes of Dickie Bird, Bobby Charlton and Eric Clapton. On his website, Russell tells the story of painting the guitarist. “When we sat down in his London home, I asked him how long he could sit for. ‘About 45 minutes,’ came the reply. I went white with panic. After an hour he had to leave. I wandered up the Kings Road, Chelsea, with a very incomplete portrait. Just an eyeball, a bit of chin, one ear, and half a nose! I sat down in a cafe with the picture beside me. A gentleman opposite peered over his newspaper, studied the painting for a minute, then remarked, “I see you’ve been to see Eric”. At that point I knew I had cracked it. I was delighted!”

You can buy a print of this portrait from the gallery website at just £2,500 (about Rs2.5 lakh).