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Adams to the rescue?
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
DURING A long cricket career, beginning as a teenager representing Jamaica and blossoming into a 54-Test match run with the West Indies, Jimmy Adams was often the one his team turned to in a crisis.
Mostly, the middle-order batsman, who scored 3,012 Test runs at an average of 41.26, was needed to dig in with a crucial innings. At times it was to break a stubborn partnership with his left-arm spin. On a few occasions, Adams's brilliance in the field helped rally his team.
Starting tomorrow, the 40-year-old, now retired from the game, will begin another weighty assignment as the Jamaica Cricket Association's (JCA) technical director for development - trying to right a ship that has gone woefully off course. Adams will attempt to stop the general decline - some say rot - of the national game.
"Basically," Adams said recently with typical frankness, "I'm in charge of raising the standard in all the areas (of the game)."
He does not underestimate the challenge of having to develop a contemporary educational training model to benefit players, clubs, schools, coaches, administrators, umpires and even pitch curators.
Yet, it is Adams's personality, long tied to his insatiable drive to succeed, that will likely prove the key ingredient in his efforts to pull the game out of its slide.
"In a very broad sense, I don't think you can separate who you are and what you do," he admitted, offering a possible explanation why he was chosen by the JCA. "I don't think I'm very different. Whatever happens is going to happen because of your personality."
So, he refuses to accept cricket's downward spiral as incurable, although fully aware that changes in the game have affected the different way people view it today.
The growing attraction to shorter versions of the game - like 20/20 and one-day internationals - is reflected in dwindling attendance at Test matches worldwide.
Adams concedes that the introduction of many other activities into the lives of today's youth may have changed their interest in the game that ruled Jamaica and the Caribbean decades ago.
He notices the signs: basketball hoops springing up on street corners and more access to computers and video games.
Damage to the game
Although still gathering the evidence, Adams can see the damage done to the local game in recent decades.
"I have no issue in saying Jamaica has suffered from falling standards in the past 20 years," he said.
Yet, Adams is not ready to believe that the supply line of talented youngsters playing cricket in Jamaica has totally dried up. He leans more on the belief that the competition offered, especially since the recent increase in high schools, has been watered down.
Add that to the gradual disappearance of senior, nurturing leadership at the clubs, and what emerges is a formula for a game being left behind.
"My opinion is not that there is decline in numbers but a decline in standards," Adams explained. "The numbers is an opinion. The standard is a fact."
To underline his point, Adams banks on his own experience.
"In a general sense, a lot of us came up through informal development systems and a lot of these are no longer in place and they haven't been replaced," he said.
In the past, Jamaica's established cricket clubs featured an informal arrangement where current and former international players helped youngsters fashion proper training habits and attitude. Those days may be long gone.
"That does not exist anymore in Jamaica," Adams lamented. "Times have changed - nothing has replaced that. In terms of what I had as a young player, the young player today doesn't have that."
Make environment right
Now inexperienced youngsters are being led by, well, inexperienced youngsters. Adams's plan is to make the environment better for cricket. He plans to review school and club programmes. That won't mean trying to scrap all the systems already in place, just tinkering with what exists. One solution is to improve the competition for the players, especially in school cricket.
"The structure is not necessarily a bad one," Adams said. "But it is not necessarily serving the purpose. The level of competition is poor, very low."
Another priority is to lift the standard of coaching. As for precise goals, Adams will wait until his "information gathering process" is more advanced before setting those.
"I'm a bit wary of putting down targets until I know what is happening in the island," he explained.
What Adams is sure of is that Jamaica's cricket problems are not unique to the country. The rest of the Caribbean is facing troubling times as well. He plans to reach out to the region to help him find solutions.
He also believes it is unfair to place all the blame on the players, especially those who end up representing the now-slumping West Indies team without success.
"I see a lot of young men who want to do well," he said, "but who have not been given the tools to perform. What is apparently clear to everybody is the player can't cope with international cricket. He has not been prepared."
Cricket, Adams said, is still an appealing outlet for youngsters. He isn't worried that other sports will somehow crowd the game out of the picture in Jamaica, as other cricket-dominated countries offer multiple attractions as well.
"I think like all of my age and younger, I think there is more available," he said. "(but) I don't lose any sleep over that."
Confronted with the argument that the game may be in danger of dying in Jamaica and elsewhere, Adams chose a more reasoned response.
Adjustment in the game
"I will not say the game will or will not die," he said. "I would like to think it won't. But like anything else, if you don't work at it, you will lose it."
Yet, Adams is the first to admit that he probably will not produce the miracle turnaround for Jamaica's cricket fortunes by the time his two-year contract expires.
Realistically, he will settle for an overall attitude adjustment in the game.
"I don't think I will be around to see the Promised Land," he said, "and I accept that. The question is, if we get the ball rolling, can that be carried on beyond your tenure?"
It sounds like Adams is already digging in on another sticky wicket.
Gordon Williams is a Jamaican journalist based in the United States.