'Devon tried to knock my head off'
The game had never seen the like before. Certainly England's batsmen didn't have a clue what to make of it. No one even knew how to describe his extraordinary action. He became known as the 'frog in a blender'. The world had met Paul Adams.
Here was an 18-year-old chinaman bowler who had played a single first-class game, but was now making the elite of England's batting look foolish. The scene was the final warm-up match before the 1995-96 Test series, England's first tour of South Africa since readmission, and the tourists were feeling reasonably confident. Then, after toiling for a day-and-a-half in the field, Adams left them bamboozled.
By the end of the second day he had already bagged Alec Stewart with a perfect googly, Graham Thorpe, and Graeme Hick with a low full-toss. He finished with four in the first innings and went one better in the next with 5 for 116.
"I was involved with the academy at the start of the season and then got involved with Western Province B squad," Adams told Cricinfo. "I played one game then got into the A side - it was a televised game - and I looked up on the scoreboard to see the SAA squad had my name in it.
"I was in awe," he added. "Seeing these guys, especially when we arrived at the hotel and they were all there. One moment I was playing club cricket, and had posters of them on my walls, and then I was bowling to them.
"I was quite nervous when I started. On the second evening I was given the ball and just thought I've got to do what I'd always done. I didn't know whether this would be a one-off or if I would get another chance. I just bowled and did my stuff. Things just happened."
It had been an extraordinary few weeks for Adams, who marked his first-class debut for Western Province with a five-wicket haul, and his performance in Kimberley began a campaign to get him included in the Test side for the opening match at Centurion Park. He didn't make it for the start of the series, but South Africa's inability to bowl England out in almost two days in Johannesburg altered the picture, and Adams made his debut in the fourth Test at Port Elizabeth
"The talked started - 'play Adams, play Adams' - in all the papers," he said. "Then there was that drawn Test at the Wanderers when Mike Atherton batted for 10 hours and they were calling for something different. They took a gamble and threw me in and I had an okay game. It all happened so quickly, the start of the season was in October and by December I was playing for South Africa. It was whirlwind time."
However, his most crucial role in the series didn't come with the ball. When he walked to the crease during the final Test at Cape Town, South Africa were 171 for 9 and had seemingly thrown away the advantage of skittling England for 153. Little over an hour later it had all changed as Adams and Dave Richardson added 73 vital runs.
"When I walked out we were about even, we had just knocked off the England total," Adams recalled. "Dave was on about 20 at that stage so we just got together and I said I'd just try and hang in there. The new ball had just been taken so there were a few quicks running at me and Devon [Malcolm] tried to knock my head off.
"There was an overthrow and Devon speared a couple of deliveries into the footmarks which went for byes. Suddenly it was all going our way. Dave farmed the strike a bit and the lead was growing. He ended on about 70-odd [Richardson actually made 54 not out] and the crowd was going mad so I was just enjoying it. Dave told me to keep going and I played a few shots like I normally did, and it came off."
England were rattled and by the time Peter Martin had Adams caught at slip the momentum was all with the home side. "It happened so quickly, overthrows and byes, and I'm not quite sure they knew what was happening," Adams said. "England were three or four-down before the lead was gone. It just shows not to take lower-order batting for granted, anything can happen."
Shaun Pollock, who had made his debut in the opening Test, was the star of the second innings with the first five-wicket haul of his career, while Adams claimed the scalps of Robin Smith and Mike Watkinson. Shortly after tea on the third day, Gary Kirsten cut Hick to the cover boundary to seal the series.
"I probably realised a little later on what it meant," Adams said. "At the time I was just soaked up in the atmosphere, but it took a while to learn how big it was and what it meant for South Africa. It's one of those you look back and on go 'jeez', that was great to be part of."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo