Johnny Morton (www.jmsport.co.uk)
It has been quite the 12 months for Mark Adair.
Sunday marked exactly one year since he made his Ireland debut in an ODI against England at Malahide – the day he became a well-known name and one that will carry the Men in Green forward for the next decade.
(Mark Adair and Pat Cummins)
There had always been hope within the Irish cricketing community that Adair would turn out to be a special talent with his ability recognised by English County side Warwickshire, but what he produced over the past year would have surpassed even their lofty hopes and ambitions.
Adair never looked back from that debut in Dublin against a team that would go on to win the World Cup a matter of months later, topping Ireland’s wicket-taking charts with 48 – the fourth highest yearly tally of all-time.
It has been a year of firsts for Adair. First ODI cap. First Test match. First Twenty20 game. First Ireland victory. First World Cup qualifying campaign – to name a few.
Through all of that, Adair has been picking up vital lessons and learning, but he also had an ability to take every game in his stride.
“It’s been a year of a lot of learning,” he said. “The best thing about it was that I came in and wasn’t really scared of anything. I was looking forward to every game I played and there was no pressure or expectation.
“Now, after having a good year, it can sort of lead you that way but you still have to take every game as it comes.”
There was no doubt that Adair would have been on the Irish selectors radar for a debut at some point soon, but that date in May against England would have came earlier than both they and Adair expected.
Adair travelled to Dublin as a net bowler ahead of the game but when injury struck, he was drafted in to the playing XI and announced himself to the world by dispatching Tom Curran for a couple of big sixes on his way to 32 before being Jofra Archer’s first international scalp.
That turned out to be just the beginning of something special for Adair and in a way that might have been the ideal scenario to make his debut in with so little time to prepare and feel those inevitable nerves. It will be a story that he will surely reflect on time and time again over the coming years and the madness of the situation also helped bring an extra special feeling to the occasion.
“I went down as a net bowler and then two days later getting told you’re playing against England is pretty special,” he added.
“At the same time, it was nice. My girlfriend submitted her dissertation in the car at an Applegreen on the way down the road just so she could be there. I don’t think she knew anything about cricket at the time.
“So it’s that sort of thing looking back on it now it’s all a bit mental and it’s great that it happened.”
Even though Adair has only been in the team for a year, he has already had his fair share of big stages and experiences with a Test match at Lords and qualifying for the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup among them.
There was also a tour of the Caribbean at the turn of the year to take on Twenty20 champions West Indies, and while parts of that trip didn’t go to plan before suffering an ankle injury, Adair is still able to recognise how many special memories have been attained so far.
“The Caribbean trip was one of the best opportunities.
“Having six games against one of the best teams in the world was something I really looked forward to and really enjoyed it. I know it didn’t go to plan with the injury thing.
“That didn’t go to plan, but the eight months prior to that was class. Playing against Afghanistan at home was special, getting a first ever win as an Ireland player.
“It was really nice to see a lot of the guys that I’ve played or trained with over recent years really kick on and contribute towards wins for Ireland.”
It is often said that you learn more from your failings than you do when you succeed and it’s certainly true that if you stick around the top level of professional sport for long enough you’re going to fail at some point. Up until the Caribbean trip, Adair hadn’t really tasted failure at all.
Yes, Ireland had lost matches while he was in the team but in terms of performance, he was one of the top players in basically every game. In the second ODI game, he brought the ball to the stumps in an action that would have secured victory for Ireland in the final over but after a lengthy third umpire review it was decided that Adair had broken the bails with his hand before the ball and the West Indies went on to win with one ball to spare.
The way Adair responds to that situation tells you a lot about him and gives you great hope that Ireland’s senior team is in great hands going forward with people like him in the side.
“Something which is important for me is dealing with failures.
“I didn’t fail an awful lot last year and then the Caribbean came along which was a bit of a nightmare. You never want to fail but you definitely need to experience it.
“Not training for failure but putting yourself into positions to fail will 100% make you improve and more level-headed.
“It’s a weird sort of mindset and it affects me because I would get down on myself and be my own biggest critic.
“You want to go in and hit every ball for six but when you hit one to long-on or aren’t timing it as well or miss a yorker and get hit out of the ground – you’re playing some of the best players in the world and if you can do it to them then they can do it to you as well.
“If we had a game the day after the last over run-out thing in the Caribbean and they asked who wanted to bowl the last over, I would put my hand up.
“I 100% want to be that guy who puts themselves in that position. It’s a bit hero to zero but I don’t care about messing up because every time you mess up, when you do succeed it’s going to be that much sweeter.
“I’ll never opt out or hide when Balbo offers me the ball. I’ll always say I have a plan and go for it. I never want to be the guy who hides from those positions.”
Adair had a big career decision to make when leaving secondary school with paths in both rugby and cricket available to him. He captained Sullivan Upper in the 2014 Schools Cup final where they lost out 27-12 to Methody at Ravenhill in a game Adair claims “I was Methody’s best player.”
That final loss didn’t stop Ulster offering the promising out-half an Academy contract, but with a move to Warwickshire already lined up, he opted to pursue a career bowling a round ball rather than passing an oval one.
On the opposing team in that Schools Cup final was a substitute scrum-half by the name of James McCollum (you might have heard of him). Adair and McCollum have switched being on opposite sides to becoming two of the most exciting talents as team-mates in Ireland’s cricket team as they help to lead the next generation alongside the likes of Harry Tector and Gareth Delany.
“I played with James since we were about 10.
“Our parents would be quite friendly and it was nice to play alongside him. It’s weird when you’re watching someone play and you’re really looking them to do well.
“Obviously you want everyone to succeed, but there are guys you really root for and want them to do well every time they walk out there. I know how hard he works and want him to succeed.
“It’s the same with Wils (Gary Wilson). Watching him train and how meticulous he is going about things – he has set a standard about how to train.
“He gets a bit of grief over his performances but he has been influential about a lot of things. If you’re judging someone on performance and what he can bring to a team, then there’s no shadow of a doubt that he’s in there.”
That desire to see your peers doing well is so clear within the Northern Knights set-up and the notion of team spirit and playing for one another is seemingly something that coach Simon Johnston has really pushed.
Johnston gets glowing reviews from any of his players that you speak to about his impact in the local game and Adair is no different, saying it’s no coincidence that five players made their senior international debut last year under his guidance.
“He knows his players very well.
“For example, he knows I’m a bit grumpy when it comes to training or Gary needs to have his own time and James doesn’t want slingers, he needs balls thrown to him and video. He knows everyone’s needs and does his best to make sure it all happens.
“If you look at the Irish team there’s myself, Gets, Gary, Prince, James Cameron-Dow and then some of the North West boys coming down as well – he has to facilitate it all.
“People forget how much work he does and fair play to him for doing it. I’m less sympathetic because he loves it!
“All the Knights really appreciate him and end up buying in. We trained on grass wickets last year and you would have had Johnty or Gary going the night before to pull covers on or getting there early to take them off and roll the wicket.
“There’s a lot that goes on and I don’t think people realise how much effort people put in.
“In my opinion, there’s no coincidence that Gary has come back and him and Jonty have put training methods together and within a year there’s five lads making their Ireland debuts while playing for the Knights. It’s no surprise to me that it comes down from the likes of Johnty and Gary.”
Adair is no stranger to injuries having suffered broken fingers to a fractured pelvis and back breaks. Although only 24, he has had to deal with a lot when it comes to his body and professional cricketers continue to put in such a huge workload throughout the year whether that’s with club or country.
In 2019, Adair played 27 matches for Ireland while bowling 171.1 overs (only Boyd Rankin and Tim Murtagh bowled more) while also playing for the Knights and helping new club CIYMS win a record four trophies in a season, including his man-of-the-match performance in the Challenge Cup final.
It can be a lot, especially on a fast bowler, and Adair has had to manage his own schedule in order to preserve his best for the international stage.
“At the end of the day you love playing cricket.
“There are guys in place who do a great job in managing bowlers. You see boys get a bit of stick on the club scene because they aren’t bowling enough, but you’ve bowled those overs in May and are still bowling in November when everyone else has hung their boots up for the year.
“We aren’t looking to bowl 10 overs every week in club cricket, we are looking to last the full year in international cricket. “Club cricket is really important to me and I enjoy it. It’s the sort of place where it doesn’t matter if you scored 100 or nick off first ball, you still get to go into the clubhouse with your mates.
“Club cricket in England was really beneficial for me because I was injured a lot and didn’t play a lot of County cricket. “I was basing myself in club cricket and those are the guys who when you’re doing well text you and come to watch you.”
Although the coronavirus pandemic has stopped the sports world in its tracks for the foreseeable future, Adair would have been using this time to rehab from ankle surgery needed after the Caribbean trip.
When he does get back onto the field, Adair will be looking to pick up from where he left off with just a bit of added appreciation for the career that he is able to lead. “I’m just trying to get back into the best physical condition possible.
“The cricket prep will take care of itself when we are back as a squad. We can’t hit balls right now so there’s no point working on my sweep shot.
“What I can do is stay physically fit and everything comes easier when you’re fit. That’s something that I’ve struggled with for a while – maintaining fitness and my weight. I’m very up and down and it’s something I would like to get better at.
“I think I went about things the right way last year with my practice and I got a bit of extra hunger there before Christmas and really worked hard with Jonty and Fordy on my batting.
“I just want to dive back in again and be appreciative of being able to do these things again.
“Those 1.5 or two hour drives to North County to go hit balls will be exciting because it gives you a bit of perspective. You might be a bit tired but you’ll appreciate it more.”