Twists and turns

Twists and turns

Twists and turns

UNORTHODOX: Paul Adams defied all coaching manuals with his unconventional bowling action.

When he burst on to the international scene as a baby-faced, bubbly 18-year-old, Paul Adams commanded instant attention.

Already a novelty in that he was a wrist spinner from South Africa, his unique action and those celebratory somersaults made the little fella from Cape Town a big hit with the fans. Defying the coaching manual and the odd attempt at ‘correcting’ his action by well-meaning coaches, Adams had no sight of the batsman when he delivered the ball.

If anything, he was actually looking behind himself, showing the back of his head to the batsman as he twirled his left wrist over; so contorted did he look at delivery that the
phrase ‘frog in a blender’ became as much of a hit as the bowler himself.

“The action just came naturally to me,” a happily-retired Adams, still only 34, told Deccan Herald. “I always had it, I was never taught anything – not even my grip. I just worked out ways of knowing what I had to do to land balls in different ways all on my own, and learnt the finer things of cricket and what it takes to be successful as I got older.

“At the under-12 level, someone once told me to hold my head up and things like that, but I just carried on and bowled the way I knew. I only took spin bowling seriously aged 16; I bowled a lot at every opportunity. I played school games in the morning, and men’s cricket in the afternoon. During holidays, I played at the senior level. I just grew and developed as I got older, and cooked up ways to get people out.”

Adams, who made his debut in December 1995 against England retired quite early, in October 2008, not having played an international since March 2004.  He finished with 134 wickets from 45 Tests, and 29 wickets from 24 one-day internationals.

Initially, unfamiliarity with his action lured oppositions to their doom; once they got used to his unique delivery mode, his lack of variety hurt him, and his appearances for South Africa became increasingly fewer.

“A few different things influenced my decision to call it quits,” Adams, now a spinning coach in Western Province and a television commentator, admitted. “Like getting a family. Like not being sure of getting a contract. I wanted to make a decision on getting a more secure life. Fortunately I got involved with SuperSports, and now with the coaching in Western Province. I am getting my level certificates in coaching, growing in that field as well.”

Barely out of school when he was thrust into the international arena, Adams needed a guiding hand within the national set-up, and that was provided by then skipper Hansie Cronje.

“At 18, just out of school, you have exuberance and youth, you’re very competitive in what you want to do. It was a great experience at that level, that was an important stage of my career. Coming into the national side, Hansie played a very influential role,” pointed out Adams, happy to talk about an individual who generates extreme reactions in his country.

“Influential in how he handled me. No one knew exactly what I was doing. He just told me to do what I do best, go out there and enjoy it. He probably picked up that when I enjoy my cricket and have fun, that’s when I am at my best, when things are happening.
“He was strategically a very astute individual. It was a crucial stage in my life. If I had come in and didn’t fit, or he didn’t have the right plans in place, I could have been out as quick as I got on. He was probably one of the better captains in handling me. And also, off the field he was very good. Especially with young guys coming in – Jacques (Kallis), Polly (Shaun Pollock), Herschelle (Gibbs) and me – he got to know each one off the field and knew exactly how to handle each person, how to get the best out of us.”

Over time, Adams formed a very close bond with Cronje. “My memories of him have always been of a very genuine guy,” the articulate Adams went on. “He always wanted to learn about you as a person. He didn’t impose his way on you. He could get into your head and get the best out of you; when the chips were down, he knew how to get you back on track. His man-management skills were phenomenal.”

Their friendship, however, doesn’t cloud Adams’ judgement. “Unfortunately for him, he got caught up in a web of things he couldn’t get out of,” Adams reflected, speaking of the match-fixing saga that rocked world cricket in early 2000. “Unfortunately, it affected world cricket too. Maybe he bore the brunt of it just to get the match-fixing thing out, and made people aware of what it can do to a person’s life and a game which we all love.

“But a lot of people still respect him for his cricket. He influenced a lot of people off the field, encouraged young kids to play and love the game. That’s why he was a big hero in South Africa. He has left a legacy behind with what he has done, as a leader. It’s important that you don’t forget those good qualities in a person and what they achieved. Sometimes, bad things overshadow everything else which I feel you shouldn’t remember people by. Life is too short to just go on about the negatives.”

The first time he was aware of match-fixing and its potential for damage, Adams revealed, was during the tour of India in 1996. “The only time I came across it was the Mohinder Amarnath benefit game. I never really picked up on any of those things. It was my first exposure to it. An offer was made, like ‘If we lose the game or whatever…’ The senior players got together and immediately squashed it then and there in the meeting.

‘Lonely spot’

“But that’s Hansie for you — he was quite open about it to everyone. In those days, we didn’t have the education the guys get now. Hansie got exposed and people have learnt lessons and put checks in place. It was very much of a shock when the whole thing broke. Hansie probably found himself in a lonely spot, didn’t know what to do but I think he came out of it quite well. He was quite strong and got into other aspects of the game but unfortunately, he was tragically killed in that airplane crash.”

During that period of crisis for the former skipper, Adams said, Cronje knew he could bank on his good mate. “We were all just sitting and watching what was going on, never knew what was behind everything,” Adams observed.

“When you know someone as closely and knowing what kind of influence he had on me, you always want to… You know that he knows he can lean on you during difficult times, and you probably picked up that he got caught up in a mess. You wanted to help him along to get out of the tough time, you know. But Hansie was a strong character; he took a hard knock, and still carried on until that tragedy ended his life.”

Adams has moved on since, too, enjoying his current stint as a fine-tuner of raw talent. “It’s exciting to work with young players, guys wanting to play first-class cricket. It’s one way of giving something back to the game we all love and cherish.”

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