Cricket: The will and skill returns for Adams as West Indies welcome back `Mr Reliable'

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The prolific West Indies batsman Jimmy Adams returns to Sabina Park for the first Test against England today after a year of recuperation in the international wilderness.

The West Indies have missed the dependability that saw Adams earn a Test average in the 50s. The bad news for England is that he is back - and feeling in the form of his life. Tony Cozier reports from Kingston, Jamaica.

One of the many paradoxes of West Indies cricket this past year is that while their batting has faltered, a left-hander with the imposing Test average of 56.88 has remained out of the team.

It has been a period of rehabilitation for Jimmy Adams who returns for the first Test against England today in the No 6 position that had been his as of right for 29 Tests. It will be a reassuring homecoming as Sabina Park is the home of the Kingston Cricket Club for whom Adams has played since he was a boy down from his home in Port Antonio, the tourist resort also known as a hideaway for the rich if no more famous.

It was at Sabina that Adams first claimed permanency with an unbeaten 95 in the corresponding Test against England four years ago, starting a sequence that sent his average soaring into the 80s following the tour of New Zealand a year later.

His decline was equally swift and startling. By the end of the series in Australia exactly a year ago his lofty standards had so plummeted that his average was down by 20 runs an innings. He was dropped and has now spent 10 consecutive Tests in the rehabilitation ward, missing both home series against India and Sri Lanka last season. There was also no sign of him on the recent ill-starred tour of Pakistan when the West Indies were humiliated by an innings in two Tests and 10 wickets in the other. Instead he was sent to South Africa to captain the A team and to sort his batting out.

Adams now looks back on his time away as time well spent. "In the past, because things were going so well, there were aspects of your batting you didn't pay attention to and they caught up with you after a while," he said. "I think I was tired mentally as well but you've got to give credit to the bowlers who worked on the weaknesses."

"I've now had a chance to go back to basics and to work on my game," he added. "I've paid more attention to detail and I think I'm a better player now than three or four years ago."

That is a big claim for then Adams was rated top of the world by the Coopers & Lybrand system.

There is a body of opinion that a fearful blow from Somerset's giant Dutchman Adrianus van Troost on the 1995 tour of England shattered not only cheekbone but his confidence as well.

Adams puts a far different interpretation on it. "I was mentally dead on that tour I would say from about the third Test on," he explained. "We had all played far too much cricket and anyone watching could have told that our players weren't enjoying it not just in terms of runs but generally.

"I had played almost every game on tour as well and that injury gave me some time to rest, maybe not in a way I wanted but it was a chance to get out of the game because, at that point it was no more fun. I was going through the motions."

Understandably disappointed when the selectors read the signs correctly and omitted him from the team, Adams set himself the task of reclaiming his place through the only way possible, by performance.

While all the other main batsmen were faltering against Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and the other high-class Pakistanis, he was gathering runs against the somewhat less demanding, yet no less competitive, South African reserves. In six first-class matches on tour he averaged just under 50 an innings, more like the "Mr Reliable" he had become known as to West Indian fans.

"Mentally I'm a lot fresher than I've been at this level for quite a while," is his optimistic assessment of his current state of form and mind. "I am saying that with or without scores. I'm eager and I'm looking forward to international cricket again."

He rejoins a team thrown into some disarray by the Pakistan experience.

"We all realise what this series means to us as a team and to West Indies cricket in general," he said. "It's common knowledge among all the players. I don't see any long faces. Everybody seems fired up and ready for it. Hopefully we can translate that into performances."

If Adams can turn the clock back four years the West Indies will be immeasurably stronger for it.