Cricket: Adams tucks into second bite

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The Independent Online
ALL discerning judges of English batsmen in this decade have noted the exceptional flair of Chris Adams. Fortunately, a couple of Australians arrived here just in time to convert this into something much more substantial.

The Adams of the dash and the flash, who could almost be guaranteed to compile a glorious cameo destined to end somewhere between 30 and 40, has been superseded by the Adams of the resolute and adhesive, who is prepared to flay the bowling for as long as it takes. The difference has been made almost exclusively by two men, Les Stillman and Dean Jones.

It could, and perhaps should, lead to the international career which threatened to elude Adams. If so, it will also render redundant all future comments about the wisdom of allowing overseas coaches and players into the English game. Since their arrival at Derbyshire last summer as coach and captain Stillman and Jones, between them, have acted as guru, mentor, teacher, motivator and counsellor to Adams.

"For me they have been absolutely perfect," said the new model, revealing the fervour and passion to be expected of a born-again batsman. "They work superbly as a pair, they're positive and somehow they make one complete person. I love Dean's motivation and aggression. Les has a more calming nature and he not only sees the problem, he has that rare quality of providing the solution too."

Adams intends that all this will mean an extra 500 runs a season. The turning point, one of those rare defining moments where light suddenly breaks through the darkness, came at The Oval a year ago. Adams was out for one of his jaunty, dominant twenties and Stillman asked him what sort of player he wanted to be. Adams looked at Graham Thorpe batting and said he wouldn't mind being a right- handed version of that.

Stillman made the necessary technical adjustments immediately. Adams was advised to move his back foot as he went into his stroke rather than use it for standing on. As he had been doing it his way all his batting life as a professional it was initially strange. But that did not dim its effectiveness. In the next match Adams made 239 and in all last summer he made six hundreds for an aggregate of 1,742 runs. It was sustained stuff of an extremely high calibre. Few could quite Adams and Eve it. Where once his method made him push at the ball he is now meeting it on level terms.

"I'll always play shots, that's my game," he said at Derby last week after being out early for once. "Les actually says I still don't leave enough balls alone but I feel I'm getting there. I'm not playing at 100mph all the time any more."

Jones, a huge admirer, makes the forceful point that Adams is different from the usual English batsman. He is a natural strokemaker whose tendencies have been curbed rather than the more typical player who defends first and much later plays a few shots.

Adams hits the ball with wonderfully controlled power which usually renders its pursuit, especially through point and cover, a forlorn exercise. It is especially to his credit that he has begun the season as he finished the last, for the autumn and winter were miserable for him.

First, as the season came to its end he was not selected in either of the touring parties, a crass omission considering that here was a 26-year- old at the peak of his game and obviously ready for a more severe examination. He was deeply hurt and recalled that the nerves he felt when the teams were announced gave way to a prolonged, solitary silence afterwards.

Then he fell into renewed dispute with Derbyshire and sought to leave despite the two years remaining on his contract. Perhaps it was surprising in view of the Stillman-Jones effect but he had been unsettled for years rather than months and, advised by his father John, the chief executive of Southend United Football Club, tried to become cricket's Bosman. Eventually, he agreed to stay but, although he clearly loves the county and still lives in the village where he was born, a move after the 1998 season is entirely possible.

Thus, there was much to prove all over again this summer. He began splendidly at Canterbury two weeks ago with a gloriously brutal innings of 118. He scored at slightly under a run a ball and his approach and execution were magisterial.

He has already seen more selectors this season than in his whole career before and now wants to miss out the seemingly obligatory A tour and step straight into the England side. "I'm ready, I won't let anybody down. If I retire and haven't played for England I'll be devastated." The portents are surely good. Adams was 27 last week on the day Tony Blair was 44.