A wet championship match at the Griff and Coton ground in Nuneaton would not live in the memory of too many cricketers whose career encompassed many years as a Test player.
But Jack Russell always was different.
The former England wicket-keeper recalls his visit to Griff, as a Gloucestershire player in 1986, with great affection – even though his team was well-beaten.
And it was with equal affection that Russell returned there recently in the guise of artist rather than sportsman.
Since retiring from cricket Russell, a gifted painter, has concentrated on his brushwork and he has just published “The Art of Jack Russell – A personal journey through eighteen counties”.
It is a collection of his paintings of every county cricket ground at which he played – including two of Warwickshire’s. Edgbaston, of course. And then there was Griff where, even during that cloud-covered match in 1986, while keeping wicket to West Indian thunderbolt Courtney Walsh, Russell found time for his artist’s eye to note the backdrop to the outground.
“I only played there once,” he recalled. “I remember it being a wet and muddy few days. We were challenging for the championship and it had rained for a couple of days and Norman Gifford set us about five million to win on the last day. We got bowled out and Giff got me out, caught at short-leg.
“It was lovely to go back there to paint the ground. I was amazed to see the boundary fence still there which was great. The ground had a nice feel to it and is one of the great names of county cricket – Griff & Coton. It has got quite a working man’s club, down-to-earth feel to it, which I like. It was nice to play there and good to paint because it is different to other grounds.
“When I went back there was a puddle on the ground which helped me because it gave me a focus. My biggest challenge in the book was to make the pictures different. I was worried because I didn’t want them all to be essentially the same – sky, green grass, pavilion. But I had forgotten how every ground has its own little bits and pieces and its own character.”
It is an enjoyable, evocative book and if many of the paintings in the book are unashamedly nostalgic, it’s image of Edgbaston is at the other end of the scale, Russell having returned to paint it only last year.
“I didn’t play at Edgbaston after it was redeveloped but I painted it from the top of the new pavilion with that great view across the city which wasn’t there before,” he said.
“I loved the old Edgbaston and the old pavilion and my mate Roy French with his bad feet who used to look after me. He used to remind me of Ronnie Barker – I’d ask for something and he’d always say: ‘With these feet?’
“He used to look after me brilliantly – he was one of the top attendants. Roy has got a mention in the book, which is going all round the world, and he deserves it.
“I always got on well with the Warwickshire lads. I was on tour with Dougie Brown and he is a collector of my work so I have an affinity with Warwickshire and people like Dennis Amiss and Gladstone Small. I used to get on really well with them.”
Russell’s book, while an intensely personal odyssey, offers a fascinating trawl through the vast spectrum of grounds which comprise the fabric of county cricket.
“It took me two and a half years to get round all the grounds I played at,” he said. “I thought it would be 30 or 40 but once I researched it it turned out to be 70. I thought I’d put a few words with each picture and ended up with 44,000 words which surprised me. The stories kept flooding back.
“It took me longer than expected but has been great fun. To go round all the grounds and see the familiar faces and old friends, and some people still sat in the same seats, was great.
“I hadn’t been back to places like Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow, for 20 years. Worksop is one of my favourite paintings. It is not one of the most beautiful grounds but when I went there the sunlight was just hitting the terraced houses and it was great to paint.
“I was very lucky in that we played in so many outgrounds. I played for Gloucestershire at every ground in the book bar one which sneaked in just because it’s so beautiful – Arundel, where I played for the Duchess of Norfolk’s XI bit not Gloucestershire. That’s just a magic ground.”