Cricket: Interview Chris Adams - Adams the careful cavalier

Stephen Brenkley meets an England tourist with Aussie desire
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AMID THE plaudits dispensed to Chris Adams last week none ought to have been more gratifying to an England supporter than one from the Antipodes. "He plays more like an Australian than an Australian," said Merv Hughes, a fast bowler who knew all about conveying that particular quality. Hughes, with whom Adams played in Canberra last winter, could have paid no greater compliment. It went far beyond ability, which was taken for granted, and embraced guts, desire and an implacable belief that the opposition are there to be marmalised.

England need that kind of approach more than they have ever done but, while Adams has been mentioned as a future Test player for longer than Hughes has been growing his moustache, his time seemed to have gone. Instead it has arrived. At the age of 29 he is one of four uncapped players in England's winter touring party for South Africa. A brief examination of the squad's balance would seem to make him a certainty to start in the side.

"The results of the England team this summer have probably helped my cause," he said. "But I was aware that if I wasn't picked this time I might as well go off and do something else. I knew I was in with a chance but that didn't mean too much because I've been overlooked so many times before. I didn't listen to the announcement on the radio because that can be fairly soul-destroying with a surname like mine. They read out the names in alphabetical order and a few years ago now I was tuning in for the squad and as soon as the name Butcher was announced I knew that was me not going again."

It is not entirely correct to state that Adams has been consistently overlooked by England. He went to New Zealand to play in a Cricket Max tournament two years ago and appeared in two one-day internationals at the beginning of last summer. The first was hardly designed to gain him greater recognition, the second was, but might have consigned him to history with unconvincing innings of 25 and three. "People told me to go out and play my own game which is what I tried to do," he said. "I wanted to get on with it from the start, play like I normally do. Well, maybe it was the wrong policy."

The experience convinced him that he might need to change. At the suggestion of John Morris, a former colleague from their days together at Derbyshire, he sought out Graham Gooch for advice. Gooch altered the Adams batting philosophy. "I always used to reckon that I was good enough to get a certain number of runs. I might get nought one day and 80 the next but the runs would be there at the end of the season," he said. "Gooch altered that. He has passed on his knowledge and impressed on me the importance of staying in and then going on. I've been getting a lot of 40s this season and batting for as long as it used to take me to get 80. But I've not been getting out cheaply so often."

He leaves more balls, his stroke selection is more judicious but it is hoped that he has not entirely abandoned his previous batting habits. Adams has always been a cavalier of the art. He plays largely off the front foot and hits cleanly through the line of the ball and as hard as any man in England. It is a destructive and appealing sight. His admirers have long since pointed to this as evidence enough for his elevation, his detractors have pointed out that a first- class career average of 36 confirms the tendency to play too fast and loose with his wicket. Adams would now agree. Hence the call to Gooch.

His tour selection - except among those to whom figures are all - was widely hailed. There was yet more approbation from Australia where the former Test batsman Dean Jones was almost as happy as Adams himself. "He's a really good fellow in every way possible. He can play, no doubt about it, and he has the scars which will help him bridge the gap. He will have to learn how to pace himself, how to play at the priority times, to get smart and to play smart."

Jones echoed Hughes: "He plays his shots with freedom and I believe he plays more like an Australian than an Englishman in terms of trying to win the game from the first ball. He also hits the ball as hard as Gordon Greenidge in his prime. He's got a great chance."

Adams admits his debt to Jones. The Australian came to Derbyshire as captain in 1996 and under his tough regime, the team finished second in the Championship. Adams prospered, scored 1,600 runs and was still, negligently, overlooked by the selectors for both senior and A teams. Not everybody liked Jones's style, however, and his fragile edifice crumbled the following season. He left immediately after a handful of games and at the end of the summer so did Adams for pastures new in Sussex. He had to threaten legal action before permission to leave was granted. He is not afraid to stand up for himself. Derbyshire then returned to internecine wrangling.

Adams, known as Grizzly, was signed by Sussex as captain and has recently pledged his future there for another six years. He has led them assiduously from the front, confounding those who mistook a burning will to win for immaturity. Adams still misses the rolling hills of his native Derbyshire, the undulating downs having not fully won him round, though his wife has settled wonderfully. "Getting picked is a reward for all of us, not just me."

He has been, it is widely known, the highest paid of all county cricketers. The worry was that he would remain a county cricketer and nothing else. But his hunger for further recognition - the stiffness of the upper lip when he talks about "my country" is palpable - has ensured that did not happen. He has also taken to the responsibility of leadership and talks of his lads with avuncular pride.

There is another dimension to the Adams game. His catching at slip and cover can be formidable. He makes the spectacular look elementary. He is a marvellously watchable cricketer and if he can make the final step now England's reward will be considerable. With any luck, the Australians might rue the day they met him.