Trent Bridge leads Adams across the Rubicon

Tony Cozier believes the West Indies captain has passed first serious test

For a team long since relegated to the also-rans of the tournament, West Indies'riotous, back-slapping, high-fiving celebrations which followed their dramatic victory over England in the last of the NatWest Series preliminary matches on Thursday might have seemed over the top.

For a team long since relegated to the also-rans of the tournament, West Indies'riotous, back-slapping, high-fiving celebrations which followed their dramatic victory over England in the last of the NatWest Series preliminary matches on Thursday might have seemed over the top.

For Jimmy Adams, the response was as much relief as elation over a three-run victory achieved only by taking three unlikely wickets in the final over. Given the identity of the opposition and West Indies' record over the previous three weeks, it could not have been more timely. In that time, Adams' world has been turned upside down. Since his appointment as captain in March, West Indies had won four of their six Tests and lost none and enjoyed a 5-2 advantage in one-day internationals.

Suddenly, in the space of a couple of days at Lord's, it all changed. They were bundled out for 54, defeat followed, as it did four successive times in the triangular one-day tournament, three to Zimbabwe, who had never previously won a match against them. Having patently regained their pride, self-belief and ability to win under Adams' captaincy in home series against Zimbabwe and Pakistan and in the First Test at Edgbaston, the team had abruptly reverted to the defeatism which had brought 10 consecutive Test defeats on tours of Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand.

It was a depressing sequence that led to Brian Lara's resignation and Adams' installation last March. Now Adams found himself confronted with his first genuine challenge. For all his support staff - the manager Ricky Skerritt, coach Roger Harper and assistant coach Jeffrey Dujon - as recently appointed as he, the responsibility for halting the rapid decline and restoring commitment and confidence remains the captain's.

It is an intimidating mission. It defeated both Richie Rich-ardson and Courtney Walsh, two dedicated, mild-mannered men who were too compassionate to deal forcefully with the influences, both inside and outside, that unsettled their teams. It so overwhelmed the mercurial Lara it very nearly ended his career, in spite of his ability to lead from the front with his awesome batting.

Adams is more in the image of Richardson and Walsh than Lara, his emphasis on team and tactical conservatism rather than personal example and bold innovation. Although such genius would be missed by any side, Lara's decision to take his sabbatical was a blessing in disguise for Adams. It allowed him to establish himself in the captaincy on home territory without the distracting presence of his controversial friend and predecessor.

Adams was at the heart of everything, publicly backing and encouraging his bowlers to defend - as they did - a seemingly indefensible 99 against Zimbabwe in his first Test at the helm, fashioning a match-winning hundred in the second and holding firm to the end to draw the Second Test against Pakistan and to win miraculously, if luckily, the Third.

He was again at the forefront in the victory in the First Test against England, his typically dogged 98 prompting 160 vital runs from the tail. He even rounded the match off by taking the last two wickets.

Intelligent and realistic as he is, Adams would have known the good times couldn't roll forever. Yet he could hardly have expected the end to be so sudden and dramatic.

The situation was tempered by arctic weather and the absences of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, not only great bowlers but father figures, and of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, an essential batsman. Yet it was an opportunity for their replacements to show their mettle. Instead, a team so obviously committed and so united under Adams were increasingly exposed as temperamentally fragile and deficient in the basics. England and Zimbabwe, not two of international cricket's mightiest powers, were consistently stronger in every department of the limited-overs game.

Inevitably, imperfections that are scarcely noticed in the euphoria of victory are plain to see. Several players were palpably over their fittest weight. The batting was inconsistent and too reliant on Lara, the bowling was all over the place and the fielding far behind the standards set by the Zimbabweans, and even England.

Inevitably, Adams himself came under the microscope. Between his First Test 98 and Thursday's 36, his scores were 2, 8, 1, 3, 2 not out, 10 and 0. His tactics have also been increasingly open to question.

All this was the consequence of failure, as was the collective self-doubt that began to take hold. To have been beaten on Thursday would have been another big psychological setback. The victory was all the more satisfying since England might just have begun to believe that all fight had gone out of opponents against whom they still have three decisive Tests.

When Ambrose returns tomorrow from three weeks' rest and recreation in Antigua, he will be welcomed back by colleagues who can fill him in on Chris Gayle's last-over demolition, Adams's shrewd decision to entrust him with it, the three nifty run-outs and the good news that his trusted sparring partner, Walsh, is ready for action again.

But for one boundary hit, it would have been so different and melancholy. No wonder they made such a to-do at Trent Bridge on Thursday evening.

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