Making Progress: An audience with Jimmy Adams
By Colin Babb
“We started the season wanting to win and I think that was a fair ambition,” Jimmy Adams said as he thoughtfully assessed his third full season as head coach at Kent county cricket club in south-east England.
“But that said, for where we are now I’m not entirely unhappy.
“I don’t like losing and I don’t like to finish second, but I’ve seen a lot of our younger players come through this season and we have given opportunities to players where opportunities have been earned.”
Jimmy Adams, a former West Indies captain, is currently the only West Indian head coach of an English county cricket team.
He had previously applied for roles at county cricket clubs in England, but was unsuccessful.
In 2012, Jimmy’s continued determination to seek a senior coaching appointment in England was rewarded when Kent offered him his current position.
In October 2014, Jimmy signed a contract extension to continue his work in progress at Kent.
At the end of the 2013 season, Kent finished in seventh place in the County Championship Division Two.
In 2014, Kent finished sixth in the division and reached the semi-finals of the Royal London One-Day Cup.
As a result of this improvement, Jimmy has been encouraged by the contribution of the young players at Kent and is upbeat about the future.
“The returns that we’ve seen from our younger players, for a county like Kent who cannot afford to buy talent in and are dependent on bringing our own through, has been a very motivating factor for us,” Jimmy told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“We’ve seen some tangible signs in the scorebook that we are going in the right direction and that has been the highlight for me for this season.
“We haven’t won anything, but we are a lot closer on the back of the home-grown talent that we’ve seen making significant strides.”
Kent cricket club has a range of Caribbean connections. In 2011, the club appointed West Indies all-rounder John Shepherd, who played for Kent (1967-1981) and five test matches for the West Indies, as the club’s president.
During 2014, three other players with Caribbean connections contributed to Kent’s season.
Brendan Nash, another former Jamaica and West Indies player, completed his third season at Kent, while Robbie Joseph, born in Antigua, rejoined Kent after leaving the club in 2011.
Daniel Bell-Drummond, British-born of Jamaican parents, is a Kent player who, according to Rob Key, the club’s captain and former England player, has the potential to play international cricket for England.
As Jimmy acknowledges, “Being away from home, and when I mean home I mean loosely the Caribbean, it’s good to have the connections with the Caribbean that we have here [in Kent]. Especially when I can relax with people, use my Jamaican accent and be understood!”
Jimmy breaks into laughter before continuing. “But none of this was really pre-planned; it’s just the way it’s worked out,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“The other West Indian guy I know from the area who’s come here [to watch cricket at Canterbury] is a guy from St Vincent who has a barber shop somewhere in town, but as you can see,” Jimmy laughs and points to his shaven head, “I don’t need him!”
Jimmy has also settled into the rhythm of life in Canterbury and sees similarities in living in Kent, also known as the “garden of England”, with his upbringing in what he describes as being “a typical Jamaican rural community”.
“I live two minutes away from the [Kent] ground and like living in Canterbury because of its size,” he says.
“I’m from rural Jamaica, so I don’t like big. So being in a town, where after driving for five minutes in any direction you’re out in the woods, is something I quite enjoy.”
Jimmy grew up in St Mary, Jamaica, in a community where “everyone liked cricket”.
His father took him to see his first test match, West Indies v India at Sabina Park, Kingston, when he was eight years old.
During the match, Jimmy keenly observed two players in the West Indies team who would later become his idols.
As he fondly recalls, “My idols were Viv Richards and Michael Holding and I saw them play for the first time at Sabina Park in 1975. I then gradually followed both of them throughout their careers and, later on as a teenager, I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like them.”
As a schoolboy, Jimmy played cricket and football, as well as taking part in track-and-field sports.
He began playing competitive cricket during his primary school years and was encouraged to play cricket and football throughout high school.
As he got older, preparing for first-class cricket matches often cut into his schoolboy football season and Rohan Kanhai, who was the Jamaica team coach, would not allow the young Jimmy Adams to move in and out of his coaching programme.
So he had to make a firm decision and opted to play cricket.
Jimmy made his test match debut for the West Indies v South Africa in Barbados in 1992, and progressed to play 54 matches, including a brief reign as the West Indies captain in 2000.
After retirement, he also had a stint working as a technical director for the Jamaica Cricket Association.
A relatively unheralded part of Jimmy’s career saw him play county cricket in England for Nottinghamshire during the 1994 season.
He regards his one season at Nottingham as an important learning curve that helped his career.
“It was a lot of cricket and it came off the back of a tough winter of international cricket,” Jimmy told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“So mentally, I think I would have lasted until the end of July, and then you could have sent me home! It was a mental struggle, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Nottingham and learnt a hell of lot during my time there.”
From the 1960s onwards, West Indies players became more in demand in English county cricket and became star attractions for some English teams.
In turn, West Indian cricketers engaged by county teams continued to earn a living by playing cricket professionally in England, and used their experience of playing regularly in English conditions to refine their technique.
For example, during the early 1970s, Warwickshire had four West Indian test cricketers who, during their time playing for the county, would became influential figures and make a significant impact on the English county cricket circuit: Lance Gibbs (Warwickshire 1967-1973), Rohan Kanhai (1968-1977), Deryck Murray (1972-1975) and Alvin Kallicharan (1971-1990).
In 1994, Brian Lara became another West Indian cricketer who made a huge impact for Warwickshire by hitting a world record first class score of 501 runs not out v Durham at Edgbaston.
However, in the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a significant decrease in the numbers of West Indian international cricketers playing regularly for English counties.
Jimmy suggested a few reasons why this trend has continued to develop.
These include the qualifications required for overseas cricketers to play in England, which restrict the availability of West Indian players on the English county cricket circuit.
The West Indies play international fixtures at home well into the English domestic cricket season, and as for those players from the Caribbean that remain available, he questions whether they are of a standard that would attract interest from English county clubs.
November in England, with the cold winter climate and dark early nights, is not cricket weather. But already, some Kent players have returned to Canterbury to begin some light work, months ahead of the start of the next English domestic season.
As Jimmy outlines, with a sense of urgency, the planning for the new season starts now.
“I can’t speak for other coaches, but there is very little downtime for myself. You basically start planning for the next season even before the season is finished.
“It’s all about identifying areas and, potentially, identifying players. In terms of our own players, after some end of the season downtime, they begin coming back [in November] for some winter work – as we do a lot of work now with the lads based in England during the winter.”
With his responsibilities at Kent and as president of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA), which represents cricket player’s bodies to the International Cricket Council (ICC), Caribbean Intelligence© asked Jimmy if he missed playing the game and still possessed a desire to pick up a bat and put on a pair of pads.
He responds by shaking his head slowly. “I sometimes get the itch to go out there and captain and organise things, but I don’t get the itch to play.”
Jimmy sits back in his chair on the Canterbury cricket ground balcony, as the dark skies stretch out over Kent and the chill sets in, and smiles to himself when asked to consider and share the highlights and lowlights of his career.
“I would beg for a broader definition and say that my highlights would be all my firsts,” offers Jimmy reflectively.
“So that includes my first game for my primary school team, my first game for Jamaica, my first game for the West Indies, my first test match 100, and my first test match as captain.
“I’m old enough now to realise that I was living my dream and even a bad day living the dream is better than the best day not living the dream! So, really and truly, I don’t think I ever had a bad day in the office.”
Colin Babb is a journalist and author of They Gave the Crowd Plenty Fun.