Couch Talk 177 (Play)
Guest: Chris Adams
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is former England, Derbyshire and Sussex batsman Chris Adams. He talks about his baptism of fire facing South Africa in South Africa, his short England career, the life of a county professional, his times with Sussex as captain, and the best English and overseas batsmen and bowlers he has played with and against, amongst other things.
Welcome to the show, Chris!
Chris Adams (CA)– Thank you very much, it is a pleasure to be here.
SJ– It is absolutely mine.
You have your new book out – Grizzly: The Life and Times of Chris Adams. Let’s start where the book starts, which is the scene from your debut Test at the Wanderers facing South Africa, and you are walking in with England in some sort of trouble, 4 for 2 with only 2.5 overs bowled. You were 29 years old, and you had been in the English domestic set up for 11 years by then. What do you believe took so long for England to give you a go?
CA– Probably a few factors, actually. Probably my own inconsistency in the early part of my career. I was a good player, an exciting and aggressive player. I played in Derbyshire where the pitches were a tad greener than in other counties, and we had a very strong four-pronged seam attack and that was our plan to go and attack other teams, so batting wasn’t very easy on it. But, it did promote an aggressive and exciting way of playing cricket, which is how I played it, but with some inconsistency in my game. it wasn’t until I was 25-26 when I started to find that consistency and that is when I started knocking on the door for England. I had a great year in 1996, scored bucket loads of runs and finished just behind Graham Gooch, but I got picked for nothing. That was a big blow. It just further put steel inside me and made me want to knuckle down even more and go that extra yard that sportspeople talk about getting the most about your performance. I, very fortunately, made my debut a couple of years later.
SJ– You mentioned the 1996 season where you scored so much and you didn’t get a call for a national side or the Lions’ tour or the A-tour at that time. You mentioned at various places in the book about your move to Sussex after spending a decade in Derbyshire, you believe that that gave you the opportunity to knock on the doors of the selectors and them paying more attention to you. How unfair is it – not just to you – but also in terms of other cricketers in the smaller counties?
CA– Look, Derbyshire is a historic county, but had a history for producing fast bowlers for England. Devon Malcolm, the most famous. That was our policy, a policy to promote and win games with 4-5 pronged seam attack and play on green pitches. Derbyshire has and always has been one of the slower counties, not a fashionable county. Back in those days it was that much harder to get recognition.
SJ– In a sense, it is counter-intuitive. If a batsman is making runs on a pitch tailor made for seam bowling and is still scoring runs, you would think that the batsman has the tools to survive at the highest level.
CA– Absolutely. I would look at it at the end of the day and see that it has been a performance led game. the quantity and quality of runs is what gets you further on in the game, as far as you can with whatever your potential is. I think, when I look back in my career, technically there were some aspects in my game which had I had an opportunity earlier in my career, I could have mended the technical parts of my game which would have made me survive a longer period of international cricket.
When I came up against the South African team in that Test series, they were as good a bowling unit as the world has seen since the great era of West Indian cricketers. I am talking about Alan Donald, Shaun Pollock, young Jacques Kallis bowling at excess of 90mph then. It was a really strong bowling attack. If you haven’t got a rock solid technique at that level, then you get found out – and that is what happened to me. Had I played earlier and gone on A-tours, I would have played with the best coaches around the country. Perhaps, that might have helped identify the areas I needed t improve on.
you get precious little chances in the side, don’t you? And many, many people don’t even get that chance. It was a privilege to represent my country in 10 matches. I am really grateful to those at the times who selected me and gave me the opportunity. I have absolutely no problems whatsoever. Many don’t make it, I got that. It didn’t happen long term for me, but it meant that my focus could shift to other important things, like captaining Sussex to many, many great successful trophy campaigns.
SJ– I want to talk a bit more about your Test career. You mentioned that it wasn’t until the end of the Test series in South Africa – the only of the 5 Tests that you would play – that some senior player put an arm around you – I think it was Michael Atherton. Considering that there were 4 England captains in the side, the top 4 were all England captains, and then Michael Vaughan and (Andrew) Flintoff would go on to be England captains in the future – considering there was so much leadership there, it would be bizarre that there wouldn’t be the guidance or encouragement for a younger player.
CA– Yes, I think that in any settled environment with that amount of experience, I would have got more from them. This was the dawn of Duncan Fletcher’s new era, Nasser Hussain had just taken over as captain. This was a very new ad fresh environment. Even the senior players back then were establishing why they may fit in the new regime. It was not fragmented, but it wasn’t a tight, close knit unit of players who could openly and honestly discuss all aspects of the game with each other and help each other through difficult periods. It was almost an experimental time in Duncan Fletcher’s era, new regime. He was going to look at people, you felt that. You felt that you were being judged and tested, which is pretty much what Test cricket is all about. I suppose the timing for me, it could have been better. I could have played against a lesser opposition and had a better start to my international career. That might have kicked me on and made me more comfortable in the environment and made me as more questions of the senior players.
I can’t stress enough, that I don’t have any regrets about that period. I had a good opportunity, I was given 5 Test matches. At the end of the day, no matter how much help you are given, if you are given the opportunity and you are not able to take it….I don’t think you can look back with any regret and say “what if?” or “I wish”. It is just one of those things, it happens or it doesn’t. Other aspects could have happened better for me, in a different environment. Had I played again a couple of years later, then I would have reflected and analysed differently. I might have been much greater or better then. The die had been cast and they had made their mind on my game and temperament at that time and moved on. Players come and get the opportunities and they go. That is the way it is, at top level sports you get precious little chances coming your way, and when you get them you make the most of it. It just didn’t happen for me at that level. No regrets, really. I won’t castigate anybody in that dressing room. They are all good friends, all great cricketers and they had great careers themselves and they have their own thoughts and reflections about that particular Test series. They won’t mind it, this was a new environment and everyone was feeling the same in trying to find out what their part was in the future.
SJ– Of course, you got 5 Tests, but they were all in South Africa. You mentioned them as one of the finest bowling attacks and the conditions – especially in the late 1990s – which is incredible for anybody travelling to handle there. Any thoughts on what if you had gotten a start on home conditions? Generally new players tend get that benefit of doubt. “Alright, come home and see if you can do well in conditions that you are aware of.”
CA– I think that was the biggest lesson for me coming away from South Africa with us. i think it was Michael Atherton who put his hand on my shoulder, and it was after the 5th Test, fortunately. He gave the reflections on my Test, which I played very much off the back foot and not on the front foot, with a very vertical bat, which is very great in England where the ball does not tend to bounce much and skids on and allows you to play on the back foot and punch the balls through the covers. But, out in South Africa, where you have a much harder surface and the ball kicks off the surface at a much greater pace, you have to play technically different, particularly off the back foot. You have to play later and with a horizontal bat. These were things that I was not thinking about at that time.
I guess I had my way of playing – my one way of playing – and I tried to implement that in that environment and it didn’t work. I tried to drive balls that I felt was there, which in England would have hit the middle of my bat, but here in South Africa they were taking a bit of extra bounce and a little bit of movement off the seam and in the air – I was edging everything to the slips. Likewise, on my back-foot, trying to force through the cover-point with a vertical blade, the extra bounce was doing for me. even though that was quite a long tour of nearly 4 months, because of the nature of the program in-between Tests, I didn’t really feed any opportunity to sit down and properly go through with the coach and senior players about what technical changes I should be looking at and making. Had I done that, there also might have been a view that I have lost the confidence in my own abilities.
It very much was a case of trying to knuckle down and score a lot of runs. I have no problem staying at the crease. I didn’t feel at any stage that I was going to get bowled out by the South African side. I have come up against these guys before, I was a good player of fast bowling in county cricket. But, my problems came when it came to scoring runs. I worked out my areas to score runs and they shut them down brilliantly, and I struggled to come up with a mental plan and how to deal with that and how I was going to get myself not just a couple of hours at the crease, but a couple of hours with a positive contribution to the game and taking it forward. That was really where I was trying to manufacture shots to areas where I might score some runs. A better technique would have delivered that for me.
SJ– You come back, you were already resigned to the fact that you might not play for England again. I want to ask you how the life of a county professional, one who is 30 and already played for England, you come back, you feel that you may not play for England again, but you go out and play. You play the domestic game, everywhere around the world – Shield, Ranji Trophy, wherever – because you want to go on and play for the country. But when you feel that that door is closed, how does your life change and rededicate your life to cricket knowing that you may not don the national clothes again?
CA– It’s a good question and very relevant. I would say that the season following that tour, I was in a really bad spot, as a person, as a character. I was scoring runs, definitely. I was hell bent on trying to prove to all that I was still worth looking at. I called it as the season I was angry. I was angry with everything, i was angry with the umpires, with the players, with myself. It was just an awful year. It was reflected through my captaincy. And then we had a really poor season there, and I take full responsibility for that. At that time it was really difficult to see what was happening to me. but it was just purely the fact that I had to come to terms with. For eleven years it was this one ambition to play for my country, and then having achieved it, it was almost over before it begun. I had to adjust and become far more self aware of myself and the impact that I was having on other people, not just my team players, but the officials and the supporters and my position as well. This is where it becomes a fantastic story for me, in that it was by no means the end.
Having realised that England was over, it was almost the beginning for me. that is really where I throw my arms and embrace the county Sussex for giving me that home and opportunity and support and love and care and environment that enabled me to rediscover the values of playing the game that would get me through 8 fantastic years that were so very successful, where we formed a formidable team of – not superstars, but – really strong team ethic oriented hard-working grasping characters. We just played the game as hard as we could on the game, but tried to enjoy it as much as we could in and around the daily routines that being in an intense environment put you through. We formed some very strong friendships which will last forever. That era was probably the happiest times of my life. Myself and Peter Moores started to construct a team of individuals together, who will were really focused on delivering whatever it took to be successful and beat the other 17 counties out there. Those times were probably the best in my life. when I reflect back on those, that is when I start to discover how strong my characteristic and personality was, and my abilities to lead, and get others to lead as well .
SJ– That is a perfect segue to what I was going to ask you. You dedicated yourself to the first class game, you transformed yourself into a leader and you won three Championship trophies with Sussex. But, in terms of leadership for England, let me ask you this. These days, these identify a young player pulled out of the first class system. He goes into the academies and he goes on Lion tours. How do they learn to lead when you are not surrounded by grizzled veterans and younger players and you are playing 5-6 days a week? For example, Alistair Cook had to learn the job of captaincy while he was doing it, rather than having very good idea of what it is to be a captain.
CA– It is a really valid point. It is very poignant in English cricket at the moment, and maybe also in world cricket. What the captains need more than anything else is time. Just think about Alistair Cook and the pressure he has been in, the scrutiny that he has been under during his time as England captain. Credits to him for having the characteristic strength to go through that when many other captains may have folded and give it to somebody else. He stuck to his guns, and got through it. character forms a massive part of that, not just about knowledge and being able to make tactically the right decision – that is probably just a small fraction of the job. The huge elements of the job are in personal characteristics – understanding yourself, being self aware about what you do and how you present yourself. And then taking that to another level to understanding your team – who they are, what makes them perform o the best of their individual efficiency and then mould that into a collective. That takes time to understand, you need help, you need outside assistance, you need good people around you, and you need the right players as well. That formula doesn’t happen overnight. If you are preparing young people to captain in the future, we are still only touching the very tip of the iceberg, with regards to the elements that we do. Now, Andy Flower has this in his agendas, in his new role at the ECB. Can we take the element of coaching – we are so used to coaching batting skills, fielding skills, bowling skills, fitness skills, mental skills – even further and can we coach captaincy skills? Is that possible, or is it just about unfortunately being in the job than on the job? We are touching the tip of the iceberg, there is still so much more to go. I think they should canvas and use people who, like myself and Graham Gooch, David Gower, Michael Vaughan, have been in the captaincy seat. Everyone will have different views and opinions from their time, but I am sure it will also be a correlation of elements which can be identified and then passed on, and maybe coached into young captains.
SJ– In the book, you mentioned about the one overseas spot in a county side, usually reserved for an overseas spinner. In your case, at Sussex, there was Mushtaq Ahmed. But, if you do that, how do you develop spin bowling in England if you keep giving a top level spot to the overseas spinner? How will you mould an upcoming spinner in England?
CA– Very valid question. My answer to that is that it depends on what criteria you live and exist under. Let’s say, if I am in a county and the bosses there say that “…the criteria here is not about winning competitions and competing to win everything, but development of players and develop 11 home-grown talents. We want seam bowlers, all rounders, batsmen and spinners” – that presents a very different way of thinking in terms of putting your teams together and developing your players. In my time at Sussex, and in the beginning at Surrey, for me it was very clearly presented to me that this is about putting the very best team on the card to win games of cricket and be very consistent at winning and providing silverware. Let’s face it, Sussex had not been there for any length of time in terms of the Championship. Surrey had been on a ten year gap of any silverware. So, it was about immediately having an impact.
If you are going to be a strong, competitive force in county cricket, you have to be strong in your home territory. You identify how the wickets are and then you play to your strength. At Hove and the Oval, if you don’t have quality spinners in your side, you will struggle to win games of cricket. That is a definite for me. I strongly believe that that was the balance. Get the best spinner in the side, we will always find enough runs and enough plans to score runs out of them. We were a good fielding unit, fit unit. The good spinner also – this is a key – buys precious time to rest for the seam bowling attack. It doesn’t mean that you are overworking your seam bowlers all day long. When we had Mushtaq in our side, he was gold-dust for the seam attack because he basically – and this was his desire, not mine – to keep bowling. He took one end out of the equation, which meant we could rotate and keep seam bowlers fresh, and not flog them, and not bowl them into the grounds. They could stay fit all season, it worked. Keeping your seamers fit is a real skill, and we were able to do that purely because we had a world class spinner.
SJ– To wrap up – you played with and against a lot of who is who of cricket in the last 25-30 years. you played alongside Mohammad Azharuddin at Derbyshire, with Dean Jones as well there. You played against Wasim Akram, you were on the field when (Sachin) Tendulkar scored his maiden Test hundred. Also the Australians – you had (Darren) Lehmann and Stuart Law and all the England players as well. Who would be the best English bowler and batsman that you played with or against? And who would be the best non English batsman and bowler according to you?
CA– You have put me on the spot. Of all the players that I have played against, who were English, probably the best batsman was Graham Gooch. As for bowler – I was fortunate to play against this guy, and he was my childhood hero – I remember walking out to bat at New Road at Worcester and coming up against a childhood, perhaps in his final year, not as fiery as he was when I was following him, but I was completely mesmerised by him and he bowled me a juicy half volley which I chipped to extra cover and got out for very few. I was in it like a trance. This guy for me epitomises everything that is great about the game of cricket. That was Sir Ian Botham. I think it was not that he bowled great, he was not at his best, but I think he was the best English bowler that I played against, without him bowling his best spell against me. i think that is the fairest way to summarise that.
As for overseas, there are only two names that come crushing out. Batting, I was privileged to see on more than one occasion some magnificent innings from first slip – Sir Vivian Richards. He was magnificent. God rest his soul, he is no longer with us, the best bowler I ever faced was Malcolm Marshall. Two absolute legends, both wonderful cricketers.
SJ– Fantastic, Chris!
You have been the batting consultant with Sri Lanka, as of last year, when Sri Lanka played in England. What does the future hold for you, in terms of coaching, batting consultant, or cricket management position?
CA– I have been working with the Netherlands cricket team. They had been years without winning a tournament, and we have won back to back tournaments with the qualification to the T20 World Cup in March, which should be a very exciting event. I am always open and searching, and looking for a more permanent role of coaching in English cricket or as a specialist who helps with batting or with an all-round skill coaching. It is an open world at the moment. I love coaching, I love the game of cricket. It is in my DNA. I look forward to the exciting days ahead, wherever it may be and whoever that it may be with.
SJ– Alright! On that note, Chris, thank you so much for being on the show. And, I wish you all the best, mate!
CA– Subash, it was a pleasure. Thank you very much!
Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman