by Abhishek Mukherjee
Jack Russell was one of the greatest wicketkeepers of all time.
His tally of 1,320 dismissals are the fifth-most in history. This includes a wicketkeeper's hat-trick, for Gloucestershire; against Surrey. Russell was the first to do this in First-Class history *across ends*.
He once held the world record for keeping in an innings of 746/9 without conceding a bye.
There are numerous Test records as well, including 1.718 dismissals per innings (best for England with 150 dismissals), 6 dismissals in an innings twice, 11 in a Test, and so on.
But this post is not about Russell's genius.
Russell was eccentric to the core. I don't even know where to begin, though the fact that his website mentions his height as 5'8¼".
Russell used to protect his privacy to an extent that nobody knew where he lived (not sure whether that still holds). The occasional visitor – including the builders – were blindfolded beforehand.
Russell loved tea (he probably still loves). He drank over 20 cups during a day's play. All that would have been acceptable, had he not used *the same teabag* throughout *a Test match*. He dipped the teabag *once* in the teacup and hung it from a peg.
He used to have milk and Weetabix for lunch. That does not sound too bad – but the 12th man had to be soaked for *exactly* eight minutes (he could tell).
During the 1994-95 Ashes, Russell ordered chicken without skin and cashews every day in Chinese restaurants. Then he requested to take the cashews off.
He wants his hands to be amputated after his death and preserved in formaldehyde.
But nothing matched Russell's obsession with his hat, one that Atherton referred to as a "dirty, smelly, grubby, patched-up, stitched-up, upside-down-flowerpot-of-a-thing that perched atop his straggly hair throughout his career", one that caused him "more grief as England captain than any Brian Lara hundred or Shane Warne hat-trick."
After wearing the same hat for decades, probably since birth, or probably even before that, it dawned upon Russell that the cap needed a wash. That was in 1993-94.
Russell was sharing an apartment with Fraser and Malcolm when this historic decision took place. The washing went fine, but he put it *in an oven* to dry. And burnt it.
"Jack pulled his hat out on a baking tray," recalled Fraser. "It looked burnt and when he touched the top it collapsed as though it was puff-pastry. To correct the disaster he considered flying out his wife."
But somehow the hat was resurrected enough for it to be donned.
Two years later, Russell was selected for the ODIs in South Africa. Ali Bacher requested the players of both countries wear caps of their national colours. This hurt Russell's sentiments.
Atherton turned to manager John Barclay.
Barclay informed Bacher that Russell "lined up the ball with the specially cut back rim of his hat and it would be an injustice to deprive him of such an essential tool of his trade."
Bacher, a successful Test captain fully aware of the nuances of the sport as much as anyone else, was somehow convinced.
During the West Indies of 1997-98, ECB Chairman Ian Maclaurin insisted England cricketers wore the traditional blue England cap.
Once again the hat was under threat.
"I really couldn't have cared less if Jack wanted to wear a dustbin on his head so long as he caught the ball," admitted Atherton. But he fought with the authorities.
One meeting followed another, leaving Atherton exasperated enough to comment that he felt "more like being in charge of a kindergarten than a cricket team." Here is an excerpt:
Atherton: Jack, will you wear an England cap?
Atherton: Is there any way we can find a compromise solution?
Stewart: Well, if Jack's going to wear his hat, I'm going to wear my white, not blue, helmet.
Hussain: If the Gaffer's going to wear his white helmet I'd like to wear my favourite baseball cap to field in.
Eventually Russell agreed to a compromise. Obviously he did not agree to wear the cap, but he finally allowed the England logo to be stitched on to his hat.
There was a reason Atherton wrote a RIP note for the hat once Russell retired.
Jack Russell turns 56 today, August 15, 2019. The hat, probably another hundred.