Monday, 23 August 2010

Adams and England - A future marriage?

There have been rumblings in the domestic cricketing scene, mainly from me, about the possibility of Jimmy Adams one day in the not too distant future representing his country in an international. If this suggestion had been made 16 months ago then I would have died laughing. Given a go at the top of the order in the Championship after Brown's departure, Adams was solid but not spectacular, whilst he didn't get a gig in the 50 over league until the very end of the group stages following the dropping of John Crawley. From that point on, however, things just got out of hand. He developed in my view the best limited overs opening partnership in the country with Michael Lumb, whose stock had also risen considerably. The pair proved a nightmare for opening bowlers, with carefully laid plans put in place for the more vicious Lumb, Adams was able to score heavily almost on the quiet. Before anyone really knew it, Hampshire would suddenly have plenty on the board, with both players finding different areas of the ground to score in. Opening partnerships of 149 (unbroken), 156 and 159 formed the basis for Hampshire's march to the final, whilst a 93 run opening partnership and a 50 for Adams were key factors in Hampshire securing the title at Lord's. In just 5 games Adams racked up 327 runs at an average of 81, scoring more runs than Slug, who had played 10 games. This form was present in the 20/20 too, with 178 runs, whilst in the Championship he quickly established himself as a certain pick at the top of the order. Three centuries, 1280 runs (highest in the club) and an average of 53 make for pretty good breakthrough season stats, and combined with energetic fielding and a safe pair of hands, it was no surprise when he was awarded player of the season.

Always prone to a bit of invention. Copyright Sarah Ansell

Adams started this season where he had left off from last - a century in the first innings of the first match against Essex, and already he was up and running (a factor he had pointed out over the winter was that a good start to his own season was vital), however he has been plagued by the better-than-Vince-but-same-problem-as-Vince syndrome. Six times he has passed 50 but failed to turn that score into three figures, and I'm certain he'd be the first to say that that conversion rate is unacceptable. However, 799 runs at 38 is still a decent return, but falls into the 'could do even better' category. Limited overs cricket is a different world altogether though. Two centuries and leading run scorer in the country defined Adams' rather successful 20/20 campaign, whilst the runs have again been flowing in the CB40. As well as myself, Adams has found an admirer in Nick Knight, who claimed after the 20/20 final that a certain left handed opening batsman would be an outside pick to open with Kieswetter in the 20/20s against Pakistan in a week or two. For me that would be the first port of call in my voyage to get Adams international recognition. So calm at the crease, he keeps things ticking and in fact only scores about 5 runs an over himself. But of course if the guy at the other end is doing the same or better then you are on for a very formidable total after 20 overs. Adams is never going to be the guy who comes out going berserk from ball one - playing 90% of your one day cricket opening with Lumb does that to you. Trott was maligned for being too much of a foundation in the shorter game at international level, but in my view at the moment Adams could carry out that same role but at a much better strike rate (taking nothing away from Trott, he is in my view still one of the best 20/20 openers in the country). Adams' fielding would probably put many international cricketers to shame, too.

In 50 over cricket I feel that England could do a lot worse at the top than Jimmy Adams. He is perhaps a slow starter but again he will bat the overs and not steal the strike from other players who are in to hit quick runs. In a 40 over match this season, Adams opened and was dismissed in the 40th over for 121. However the team total read 347, with Carberry and Ervine in particular laying waste to the Warwickshire bowlers safe in the knowledge that there was a sure bet at the other end to keep the innings going. And that's exactly what he does, he provides the insurance for the other players to express themselves. Even better than that Adams has the ability to step up the pace himself in the later overs, and can match the best strikers shot for shot. He does favour the leg side in limited overs cricket, and this of course means that the majority of his dismissals are around square leg, mid-on etc. Interestingly I can not think of a time Adams was dismissed LBW in a one day game or 20/20. Obviously it has happened but without the stats or scorecards to hand I can not recall a single instance. It is somewhat surprising given firstly his lunge to the off-side as his trigger movement (which then of course opens up just about the entire on-side to stroke play), and secondly his exaggerated but seemingly brutally effective high back lift. This provides the bat swing that helps with those brilliant pulls and swats, coupled with high levels of physical strength and Adams can clear any boundary.

The best 20/20 batsman, 2010
The big question though is test cricket. If Adams were to play test cricket I think his debut would have to be declared a national holiday. In my view though I can't see us getting an extra day off in the foreseeable future, as much as I would absolutely love it. Though he is 29 or 30 or around that age, Adams' late arrival to the first XI as a regular means that in a way he is still quite raw in the longer format. He is of course pretty much first name on the team sheet (with Carbs and Cork) and despite suffering the issues mentioned above in the CC, he has become a reliable performer. It is perhaps in the CC that the high back lift causes problems for Adams. He seems to like to get his first run on the board quickly, to get down the other end and get a feel for the whole game in general as early as possible. He also likes to feel the ball onto his bat, and so in recent CC matches he has been getting out fairly early on in an innings (very early on against Kent, Essex and Durham) where he plays at a ball he really shouldn't have to. I know it's too easy for me to say just leave the ball outside off, as I'm sure it is extremely difficult to do when you are facing the likes of Masters, Thorp and Harmison. However it is almost as if the back lift causes him to bring the bat down at a ball instinctively. I'm probably completely wrong but that's the impression I have got. He has though looked very comfortable against spin and can handle the turning ball very well indeed, as he is very strong on the sweep and knows when to come down the pitch and when to stay in his crease. He does therefore have very good situation awareness and can develop an extremely effective, versatile game plan. This is of course vital in test cricket as top quality bowling will be the order of the day non stop in some very different conditions to anywhere experienced between The Rose Bowl and Chester-le-Street.

So can Adams cut it as an international cricketer? Yes and no. I think that test cricket can only be a dream for Adams, as work is still needed on his technique, especially on green tops, whilst Carberry and Lyth are both ahead of him in the openers queue. There may be an opening in one day cricket, though his similar scoring style to Strauss would count against him. I think if Adams finishes well in the remaining CB40 matches against Kent and Leicestershire, then he may be in the selectors' minds come next season's summer internationals. In my view though Adams should start along side the Bedwetter (though in an ideal world Davies) against Pakistan for the two 20/20s against Pakistan in Cardiff. It's likely that the selectors will disagree with me and go Bopara but no man deserves more of a chance at the top than Adams going on recent form. He has scored skip-fulls of runs against some fine bowling attacks in the much tougher South Group, and he has done so without looking like he's doing it by accident, surely the mark of a class player. There are mountains to climb rather than hurdles to jump at the moment, but Adams' fairytale transformation from club/Second XI/occasional first team cricketer to international quality opener is progressing nicely. Very, very nicely indeed. 

All photos courtesy of Sarah Ansell. Click here for more fantastic cricket photos.

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