Cricket: Seduced by first fruit of Adams

Stephen Brenkley says England may have to reward a player of high class and earnings
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The Independent Online
IF IT'S May it must be time to consider Chris Adams for England. For most of this decade such grandiose talk has led precisely nowhere upon entering the confines of the selectorial meeting room but the candidate himself has rarely turned up short of the necessary credentials.

Once more this spring, he comes armed with persuasive figures almost as uplifting as the blossom on the trees. In his new guise as the captain of Sussex and the highest-paid county cricketer of all, Adams has already scored two Championship hundreds, one in each innings against Essex. He followed these immediately with a bristling half-century in 46 balls in his side's opening Benson and Hedges Cup match.

This impressive beginning to his new career is merely an extension of his old one. In seven of the past nine seasons Adams has had at least one first-class century to his credit by the middle of May and in four of those he had achieved it before April was out. Peaking too soon, it might be said, but he has tried leaving it later. In 1996, he did not score his first hundred until the first week in June (though even then he had made precisely 100 in an April B and H tie), followed it with five more and still there was no sign of international recognition.

"I want desperately to play for England," he said last week, ruminating none too over- optimistically on his chances. "It would be something very special and it would come completely from the heart. It's getting the opportunity. I've learned a lot in the last three years. I was reaching the stage where I was no longer young and promising and was in danger of ending up as just another county pro. That's not what I want."

Adams will be 28 on Wednesday, a birthday shared with Tony Blair who will be 45, and he knows that if the call does not come soon it will not come at all. Not in these brave new days when the attitude seems to have shifted from one extreme to the other and young and promising for England cricketers, if not for Prime Ministers, will soon have to end when the cot is thrown out. But of his rich and prodigious talent there is no doubt. Watching his brief assault against Middlesex on Wednesday was a seriously cheerful business. He regularly took calculated risks against the new ball and his reward included a blazing six over cover point, another driven straight against Angus Fraser which saved the bowler the need to clip his eyebrows and a charge down the pitch against England's straightest seamer which resulted in an outrageously carved four through midwicket.

Just as Fraser was probably thinking that he was being subjected to a more measured version of Philo Wallace and Clayton Lambert he got one to move slightly away up the hill, induced the edge and Adams was gone. "He's such a good bowler," said the batsman later and though that is indubitable there was also the sense that here was a player who knew it took a good bowler to get him out. As for Fraser, he probably wanted to prove a point against a cricketer who has played 38 Tests fewer and may well be earning from his county a similar number of thousands of pounds more. "Gus just smiled at me afterwards and raised his eyebrows [the recently scorched ones, presumably] a bit," said Adams. "He has made a point about the salary I'm being paid but my view is that I hope it will lead the way for all players. What I earn is the sort of money that top footballers in this country get in two weeks. I love our game and I want it to be able to afford to reward its top players."

He seems unconcerned about the weight of his pay packet bearing down heavily on his form and the early results are sound evidence. When he was at last granted permission to move from Derbyshire last autumn, after two acrimonious years, his agent, Jonathan Barnett, wasted no time either in securing him a better county deal than any that had gone before or in stating categorically that his client was now the top-salaried player in England and probably the world. The money, declared Barnett, made Adams a star and the game needs stars to excite interest. With the cash (no definitive figure but it is nearer pounds 100,000 than pounds 50,000) comes responsibility and Adams insisted that he is ready for it. Not only his cricket has advanced in three years but he claims to know himself better. If some of this has been caused by a naturally evolving maturity it is also down to the arrival at Derbyshire in 1996 of Dean Jones and Les Stillman. Their approach to cricket, how to win and what you needed to do to win transformed Adams. He has taken some of it with him to Hove where he has been charged with transforming a struggling team.

"I'm not saying that all of what Les and Deano stood for would work for everybody. But it worked for me and I'm trying now to pass on some of that to the players at Sussex. There are a lot of good players here but they've forgotten for the moment how to win. Maybe they don't believe they can. I've got to try to get over to them what they are capable of. I want senior players to be leaders and then that'll teach the younger ones to be leaders in their turn. I won't feel any pressure as captain but I'm a born winner and that's what I want from these lads."

He is a candid and pleasant personality but his desire and belief in winning has led him close to the boundary of acceptable on- field behaviour. Two years ago at Southampton he appeared to stand his ground when given out caught at the wicket. The umpire checked with his colleague, discovered the ball had indeed not carried and Adams added a further 124 runs to make a career best 239. Then, last summer against the Australians at Derby he was given out lbw by Vanburn Holder and appeared to dispute the decision. True, only Holder can have thought it hit the pad but that was hardly the point. Adams was duly fined.

"I honestly didn't see the upraised finger," said Adams, "because there was no need to look for it. I then asked the umpire what was going on, walked but made my mistake by asking the Australians if they were claiming it. I shouldn't have done it."

Maybe not but he still made a thrilling 91 in the second innings to reaffirm the point that he thrives on taut positions. He will have a lot of those as Sussex captain. He deserves to have a few more in England's cause.