We speak to Cape Cobras coach and former Test spinner Paul Adams about his rise to the top, playing with his heroes and his path into coaching. Interview by Mark Salter.
How did you get drawn to cricket in your youth?
I grew up in a very sports orientated family and we spent a lot of time playing all sorts of of sports. Cricket was a big thing. I played at Grassy Park High and later at Plumstead High.
Who were your role models and who influenced you?
I loved watching Peter Kirsten when I was growing up, and we were all influenced by the quick bowlers like Garth le Roux and Stephen Jefferies. But then, when I was about 16, along came [Australia leg spinner] Shane Warne. He was a revelation, and it motivated me to start experimenting with spin bowling. I used to bowl quick, with the same unorthodox action I took into spin bowling [memorably described as being like a ‘frog in a blender’] and it seemed to work. I really enjoyed it. Everyone wanted to bowl fast but I found an opening with spin. Later I came under Eddie Barlow at the Western Province Cricket Academy, and he made me focus on what it was I wanted to do and where I was at.
Did anyone ever try to coach your style out of you?
Oh yes! But they never succeeded. I just kept on doing my own thing and it kept working. They wanted me to do things differently, but I just stayed the same and I had some success [134 Test wickets at 32.87; 412 first-class wickets at 32.66]
You made your Test debut at a very early age in 1995 [aged 18]. How did that come about?
Yes, it was all very quick. Obviously, we all dream of playing for our country. After school, I played U19 and SA Colts and was then called up to the Cricket Academy. Then I played for South Africa A against England [where he took 9 for 181] and suddenly I was in the Test team in the fourth match against England. That all happened in a very short time; all within a few games. I had only played five first-class games for Western Province.
What were the highlights of your Test career?
Getting my first cap from Hansie Cronje was one of them. Not only was I playing for my country, but suddenly I was playing with guys whose pictures were on my wall. It was a very special moment for me. Then from a playing point of view, I look back on my first five-for: I took 6-55 against India … in Kanpur! That was great; and then there was my 10-wicket haul against Bangladesh [in 2003].
Spin bowlers are a special breed in South Africa, where pace rules. Did you feel extra pressure to perform?
All the time. Every time I had the ball, I felt they were expecting me to perform a miracle; even when the conditions weren’t there. I had to learn to put things into context; if the conditions were right, I tried to ignore the pressure. But I always felt I was under a magnifying glass.
Looking back, would you do anything differently?
No, I don’t think so. I enjoyed every minute. I made some great friends and had some good times. I felt I made a contribution. I’ve no regrets about how I played.
You must have had some disappointments along the way?
Oh yes. But that’s part and parcel of top-class sport. And when I got called up for the Proteas squad in 2006, but didn’t play, I started thinking about refocusing on what I really wanted to do.
What prompted you to retire in 2008 at the age of 31?
I was not getting the opportunities I had hoped for. I was knocking on doors but nothing was opening. I was married and we had a young family. I felt I had to take some responsibility and do something more sustainable. But it was a very big decision.
How did you get into coaching?
I always wanted to coach; spin bowling especially, as I thought there was a lack of proper spin coaching. I moved to the WP Academy and coached South Africa A; I also coached spin at Cricket SA’s high performance centre. Then two years ago I applied for the job as head coach of the Cobras.
What motivates you in coaching?
I want to encourage all the players to be the best they can, on and off the field. We are servants to the game, really. You need a high work ethic, but especially, I think you need to be honest and open with the players about where they are at and what they feel they can do. But there are rewards, like seeing youngsters like Bueran Hendricks and Dane Piedt come though and make it to the Proteas.
What do you do outside cricket?
I don’t really have time for much else outside cricket. It takes up a lot of my time. My wife Adrianna takes a lot of strain, and sometimes things are quite tough. I have two children, a son and a daughter, so I want to spend as much time with them as I can, take part in their extramural activities and just be there to encourage them to do what they want to do.
Date and place of birth: 20 January 1977, Cape Town
Batting style: Right-hand bat
Bowling style: Slow left-arm chinaman
Best Test bowling: 10-106 vs Bangladesh, 2003
Playing honours: South Africa (1995-2004; 45 Tests), South Africa A, Western Province
Coaching honours: Sunfoil Series (2013, 2014); One Day Domestic Championship (joint winners with Lions, 2012-13; and Titans 2013-14)
This feature appears in the November issue of TFG SportsClub Monthly, published by Highbury Safika Media.