Born on January 20, 1977, Paul Adams became the youngest South African player to make a Test debut in December 1995 when he played against England at Port Elizabeth, aged all of 18 years and 340 days. However, it weren’t statistics that defined Adams’s career. Jaideep Vaidya has more on the man likened to everything in a short nine-year career – from insects to amphibians.
There are three kinds of cricketers that can be defined as memorable. First, there are the greats – the legends – of the game who mesmerise you throughout their career with their class, like Sachin Tendulkar and Sir Don Bradman. Then, there are the perennial controversial characters who, by choice or not, will always make the back pages for the wrong reasons; Shoaib Akhtar and Shane Warne come to mind. The last category, however, is the most interesting one. It comprises those players who possess some oddity, perhaps an idiosyncrasy, about their style of play that will forever be etched in your memory. You can pick these characters out from a crowd blindfolded. They are players who have given convention a mighty toss. Paul ‘Gogga’ Adams belongs to the third category.
The gogga (Afrikaans for a gnat-like insect; more on that later) was fittingly born in Grassy Park, Cape Town, in 1977. Adams started playing cricket at a young age and plied his trade as a batsman back then. However, a teacher at the Plumstead School pushed him towards bowling after spotting his talent. Adams then started bowling left-arm unorthodox spin, and you wouldn’t believe how unorthodox it was!
Adams’s bowling action is one of the most peculiar sights in the world, leave alone cricket. As he reaches the end of his short run-up to the crease and his arm completes the round action, it appears as if Adams’s head contorts the full 360 degrees before the release of the ball. And get this – photographic evidence has proved that Adams’s head is facing skywards at the point of release. This, after bowlers are drilled the routine of always looking at the spot where they want to pitch the ball.
Adams’s action used to be a matter of much banter during his childhood. “When he first bowled, the other team used to laugh at the way he bowled,” said one of his teachers, as quoted by Eugene Abrahams in Paul Adams, a biography. “But when he started taking their wickets, they were not laughing anymore.” Adams was soon to be picked for the South African Under-19 team tour of England in 1995.
The Englishmen were mighty amused when they saw Adams in action and wondered how he could see where he was pitching the ball. Mike Gatting said he looks like ‘a frog in a blender’. However, the frog had the last laugh. He picked up the wickets of established batsmen such as Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe. “People think I can’t see the batsman when I bowl, but I can,” Adams was quoted as saying in Paul Adams. “When I drop my head, I can still see him in my mind’s eye. It comes from practice. It is not just luck.”
It was around this time that he was first called Gogga. Asked who first gave him the name, Adams told IOL Sport, “Brian McMillan. He first saw me at the nets, and said, ‘you look like a Gogga’ because of my action. And then ahead of my first WP [Western Province] game against Northerns at Centurion, while we were warming up, commentator Kotie Grove was walking around, and asked, ‘who is that?’ Eric Simons and Mac [McMillan] were there, and immediately answered ‘Gogga’.”
Gogga was soon drafted into the senior squad. The 18-year-old was to make his debut, becoming the youngest South African to do so, against England at Port Elizabeth, but not before a few critics said he was too young to play for the senior team. Adams responded with a six-for in only his fifth Test match.
In 1999, Adams was involved in a needless controversy after he replaced the white Pat Symcox in the South African team, which many labelled as a politically motivated decision. Captain Hansie Cronje too didn’t take the decision well and reportedly threatened to walk out. “This is a sacrifice,” said Cape Town, “that smacks of political expediency, for Adams has not been bowling well this season.”
However, Adams chose not to react to any criticism and let his performances speak for themselves. He soon became an integral member of the South African team by 2000. He even got the trust of Cronje, who justified it saying, “He has his control back and we are learning all the time. He has really come along and is now an integral part of our bowling attack.”
The following year saw Adams getting embroiled in yet another controversy – this time, one he could have avoided. Adams was part of a group of South African players, including Herschelle Gibbs, Roger Telemachus, Andre Nel, Craig Smith and Justin Kemp, who were caught smoking marijuana in the Caribbean following a victory. The United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) fined the group 10,000 rand ($1,300).
In 2002, Adams went past 100 Test wickets, becoming the seventh South African to achieve the distinction. The same year, he was named one of the outstanding cricket players of the 2001-2002 season, along with the likes of Graeme Smith, Andrew Hall, Steve Elworthy and Martin van Jaarsveld. The Proteas hadn’t done well that year and had suffered heavy defeats, but, the five were rewarded because they “sparked a turnaround against the Australians after coming into the national team midway through the home series.”
Circa 2003 and Adams picked up his career-best haul of seven for 128 against Pakistan at Lahore – a match which South Africa eventually lost. However, he was to play only three more Test matches as batsmen around the world had pretty much deciphered his bowling and the element of surprise in his action was long gone. He suffered from a lack of variation too in a world full of doosras and teesras. His career was also hampered by injuries at crucial moments and he soon lost his billing as South Africa’s No 1 spinner to Nicky Boje.
After taking 134 wickets from 45 Test matches and 29 wickets from 24 ODIs, Adams eventually decided to take a premature retirement from playing at the age of 27 and look towards a job in broadcasting. No left-arm spinner has ever taken more Test wickets for South Africa.
“I had to make a choice: keep playing or try and change the career and make the move somewhere else forward,” he told ESPNcricinfo.“It was tough but that’s the way it goes. No playing opportunities. And I had a family and two kids. You have got to bring the food to the table. At that time SuperSport broadcasting helped me out and I got involved there.”
Adams continued to play in the domestic circuit for some time before totally calling it quits in 2008. He then took to coaching and was recently named coach of the Cape Cobras. But apart from occasionally having a go at the nets, it is rather sad that the world will no longer get to see Paul Adams in action again.
The frog will never go into the blender again; the insect will never twitch again.
(JaideepVaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )
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