Cricket: Giles eager to take his turn

As a young England spinner tries to prove the breed is not yet extinct, Warne remains in the limelight
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ALL the talk in Australia is of spin bowlers. If they have not been rattling on about the absence from the nation's one-day squad of the new hero, Stuart MacGill, they have concentrated on the elevation to the captaincy of the legend, Shane Warne, in the same week he has been giving formal evidence to a match-fixing inquiry about accepting money from a bookmaker. Ashley Giles has not been given a mention.

The reason for this, apart from the utterly compelling nature of the other stories, is that Giles is an England spinner. This is a dying, if not extinct breed, which everybody agrees urgently needs to be resuscitated, but is unsure how to. England want spin but at the same time appear to be wary of it. Giles was called up by the selectors for the Fifth Test at Sydney, where it was known the pitch was likely to be a raging turner. That was a bold and positive move, but on the morning of the match Giles was omitted from the team, which was not. The ball duly turned circles.

It will be seen in the next four weeks how England use Giles and their other spinner, Robert Croft, in the Carlton & United Series in which they must play at least 10 matches. Spinners have become increasingly proficient in limited-overs cricket, not least because batsmen have to take risks against them and they frequently have more well- disguised options at their disposal, with regard to flight, drift, as well as turn, than the average seamer.

"I was here in Australia with the England A team two years ago and the thing that was really encouraging was that the pitches gave more bounce, which is as important as turn," said Giles. "I don't know what our plans are for this series, but I think there will be room for only one spinner."

If so, it will be a difficult choice for while Croft seems to have regressed in the long game, he is a model of the one-day off-spinner. Giles has the advantage of turning the ball away from the bat but may not quite possess Croft's economy.

"I want to get in the side this series, I want to help us win it because it should be quite clear that one-day cricket is all that really counts for the next five months," said Giles. "These matches here are important and the crowds will be massive, but they are all building up to the World Cup. That's what we should be focused on now.

"I want to walk out in the final with England at Lord's on a hot summer's day in late June before a big crowd roaring us on and come off a few hours later and grasp the trophy as champions." And who says modern cricketers have no poetry in their soul?

Giles spent most of his formative cricketing life as a left-arm seamer but was converted to orthodox left- arm spin six years ago. His height helped him to make an immediate impression. Perhaps the only serious comparison to Warne is that he has a tendency to put on weight ("I've changed. There comes a time when you have to realise about going out and enjoying yourself") he has an impressively competitive spirit and a big-game temperament. He punches the air in frustrated anguish to demonstrate the first, as he did when he was straight driven a little too often in England's commendable win against Queensland Bulls.

He exhibited the second quality no better than on the A tour to Sri Lanka last year where he batted with immense maturity and, administrators and groundsmen might care to note, took advantage of pitches where the ball, having been given an enormous tweak around the seam to the obvious endangerment of the skin on the fingers, did not then choose to go straight on.

It should be additionally recorded that Giles has a career average of greater than 30 with the bat and fewer than 30 with the ball, which makes him solitary among English spinners. The thought occurs that he may also have an advantage in selectorial meetings because David Graveney, the tour manager and chairman of selectors, was also a tall left-arm spinner.

The triangular contest is a big series for Giles and England. He is one of eight players to have joined the squad as what will now be termed the one-day specialists. There are, in addition, eight who have remained from the Ashes series. The newcomers, naturally, have instilled a renewed ebullience but there was some early evidence that this was not only the novelty of the new boys.

The win against the Bulls when England made 324, the highest ever one- day score at the Gabba, should not be written off as a national side trouncing the local whipping boys. England were without most of their Test men and Queensland had won the corresponding fixture on the eve of the triangular series for the past four years.

It is too early to talk of plans and strategy for the World Cup but even the captain Alec Stewart was prepared to concede that the campaign starts here. "The Ashes have gone, this is a different competition which we want to win. But yes, it will go some way to deciding who plays in our World Cup squad."

The prospect of good-hearted, under-rated cricketers like Vince Wells and Mark Alleyne playing for England in the World Cup would have been a notion for foolish romantics a few weeks ago. But they have made a distinct initial impression. It would be heartening if England not only began to hone a strategy in Australia but innovate one, too, as Sri Lanka did in the last World Cup.

Sri Lanka are the third team in the tournament and while they are ageing and lack alternatives they will be hard to beat. They promise another fresh approach to boot. The one-day game remains ripe for bold experiment. Maybe England could come up with the idea of an all-spin attack. Now that would be all the talk in Australia and everywhere else.