Cricket: Adams spins the wheel of fortune

Stephen Brenkley hears a clarion call from the agent of cricket's highest earner
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The Independent Online
As Chris Adams signed his new contract last week he instantly became the highest-paid player in county cricket. No figures were mentioned and indeed the Sussex chief executive, Tony Pigott, was keen to allay speculation about what sort of figure might have lured the batsman to Hove.

But Adams's agent, Jonathan Barnett, not only cheerfully confirmed his player's new status, he also made a plea for higher cricketers' wages generally and lambasted the more cautious approach espoused recently by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Barnett was not about to divulge the details of the deal which takes Adams to Sussex as captain for next season but something around pounds 200,000 for his three years there would probably be a slight underestimate.

"Yes, Chris is getting more than anybody else playing the game here and probably the world," he said. "I'm expecting Nick Knight on the phone complaining shortly because up until now he's been the highest earner." Adams's position on the salary scale may be short-lived in view of Devon Malcolm's prospective lucrative move to Northamptonshire. Malcolm is expected to announce any day that he has rejected Derbyshire's offer of a new contract.

"Chris Adams is worth what he's getting and while he'll do his bit the game has got to ensure they know he and others are worth it," said Barnett. "There are good reasons for this. Two or three weeks ago Adams was just another county player. Now suddenly he's a star and that's down to the money attached to his move from Derbyshire. The game needs stars, kids love stars; they'll look up to Chris now whereas they wouldn't have done before. We need more of this, not less."

Warming to his theme he drew the comparison between his beliefs and the policy outlined two weeks ago by Tim Lamb, the ECB chief executive who warned of the dangers to the game's financial state of paying too much. "It's the wrong low-key approach," said Barnett. "Cricket's in decline. It should be getting out there, making people take notice of it, ensuring the counties are year-round businesses which pay for themselves and then pay the players more. To some extent that's what creates players and creates stars and therefore generates interest.

"A few years ago when the maximum wage was lifted in football there were worries expressed by authorities about wages and what they'd do to the game. Well, look what's happened in football now. I think Tim Lamb's got it the wrong way round and anyway show me the county that's gone out of business. There aren't any."

Over at Lord's, on hearing of Barnett's robust comments, officials politely but firmly declined to reply. Lamb did not wish to become embroiled in a public slanging match and stood by his previous comments.

Back at Hove there were no doubts that the signing of Adams, following the recruitment of the Australian Test batsman, Michael Bevan, would regenerate not just interest but the club's playing fortunes. Pigott was adamant that they had the money available to pay whatever was agreed and indicated his willingness to attract other players with handsome offers.

"We're determined to stand on our own two feet here. This is a year-round operation but that will be helped by having a team to go with it," he said. So keen was he on Adams, with whom he first chatted last June - the pair later spent seven hours in conversation to determine if they were meant for each other - that he bombarded Barnett with phone calls. This gave him a head start in the chase. Kent were keen and Adams himself is a fervent admirer of their excellent coach, John Wright, a former team- mate at Derbyshire. But they rather hampered themselves by refusing to meet Barnett.

A year ago Sussex were shedding players like old socks. Five capped men went in rapid sucession. While they are not about to return Pigott has been quick to redress their fortunes since his arrival earlier this year. There was little he could do about their woeful summer but he has been quick to show his hand. Having secured his captain he has now made approaches for two all-arounders. "It's too early to say whether we're confident or not but we'll be going all out to get them," said Pigott.

Barnett spoke warmly of Sussex's new guru. "He's ambitious for Sussex and he loves them and is determined they'll succeed. That's why he was so determined to get Adams. It's a good move. Chris is a big name now; he's driving a Mercedes."

Not long after, having seen the deal done and talked up wages and thus presumably his cut, the agent walked back with his driver to his waiting Bentley.