Ashley Giles' Ashes diary: Borat, Bono and that dropped catch
In the first instalment of his account of the tour Down Under, the England spinner reveals some exciting moments off the pitch - and an excruciating one on it
Saturday 09 December 2006
EARLY DAYS IN AUSTRALIA: 'Bono is a great performer but I didn't like all the politics. Text this, text that'
When you have been in the team for a bit you begin to take the constant arrival of kit and stuff for granted, but when you have been out of the side for a while it is once again exciting to receive your blazer, England shirts, training gear etc, etc. Even packing your bag is fun. I had missed it and there had been many occasions when I thought I would never do it again.
After a couple of days in Sydney, it's off to Canberra for the tour's opening game. It did not give us the start we want. The PM's XI come at us hard and it also gives me an early taster of Aussie supporters. It does not take long before, "Giles you wanker, enjoy your last bowl on tour," echoes from the stands. I was extremely nervous before the game. I am as well prepared as I have ever been but my bowling has been limited since my hip injury. I have deliberately amended my action and it is a work in progress.
It is not all work, though. Go to see U2 in concert. They are excellent. Bono is a great performer but I don't like all the politics. Text this, text that. I wish he'd just get on with the music. We also go to see Kylie Minogue, who is fantastic. I've never been a huge fan of Kylie's music, although I've always had a soft spot for her, but her show is excellent. We are within spitting distance of the stage, and I'm sure she looked at me a couple of times. We go to the VIP area after. I linger but she does not show up.
Marcus Trescothick's departure is not a total surprise. He's a close mate and told me in Canberra he was struggling. None of us realised it was this bad and that he'd get to this point so quickly.
Find out I am playing at the team meeting the night before the first Test when Freddie reads the side out. The day had been a bit of a nightmare because I had been hit on my bowling finger at practice and spent the rest of the day going for an X-ray. Mixed emotions as I return to my room after the meeting: joy at being picked again, but playing here in this game is quite daunting. Get to sleep OK but wake up every hour and each time it's cricket. "Am I ready?" "What's going to happen?"
The Ashes in 2005 was a nightmare. I didn't get a good night's sleep for six weeks.
BRISBANE, DAY ONE: Harmy's first ball
I am at mid-off when Harmy sends down the first ball and I cannot understand what has happened. I think: "How's that got to Freddie so quickly?" I think it must have gone to Geraint Jones and he's tossed it to Fred. But then I think about it and realise it has gone straight to him. I run up to Harmy and try to crack a funny to relax him because we were all nervous and tense. I say: "I know he's your best mate but you don't have to bowl your loosener at him." He gives me a very nervous smile. I picked up the wicket of Damien Martyn but, with Australia reaching 346 for 3, it was a disappointing day.
BRISBANE, DAY TWO: Ponting...then Borat
We get weighed after every session and have to drink a litre of fluid for every kilogram we lose. In one session you can lose three kilos (7lb).
Ponting goes on to 196. He is an incredible performer. He is difficult to bowl at because he makes you bowl in places you don't want to. Australia declare, we lose three wickets - not the ideal start. No bowling tomorrow so venture out to watch the Borat movie. Get a few double takes as I queue for popcorn. I love Borat, he's bloody funny, but there is not a lot of laughing in the rest of the cinema. I don't think they understand it.
BRISBANE, DAY THREE: The Aussies didn't sledge me
You write Glenn McGrath off at your peril. Back he comes, after everyone was saying he was over the hill, with 6 for 50. When I go out to bat and see the cracks I know they are exactly where he is going to pitch the ball. He has lost some pace but he exploits the conditions beautifully. Stuart Clark is a handful, too. The Aussies don't sledge me, which is surprising.
No surprise that Ponting does not enforce the follow-on. Cracks in the pitch opening and it allows them to get after our bowlers again. Matthew Hayden comes out playing shots which is not what we want to happen. He scratched around in the first innings.
BRISBANE, DAY FOUR: Poor Colly, then more Borat
Our best day so far. Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen's partnership is brilliant. They stand up to the Aussies and show them that we're not going to be bullied. We know we aren't going to save the game but it's great to see us being positive. Colly, the poor bugger, gets out on 96 and is suicidal when he gets to the dressing-room. Go to watch Borat again with a few of the lads. Laugh a lot again, but I laugh earlier this time because I know what is going to happen.
BRISBANE, DAY FIVE: Drinking with the enemy
KP does the same as Colly - gets out in the 90s. Geraint and I play a few shots but it is the last rites. At the end of the game we go and have a beer with the Aussies. I am glad we do for a couple of reasons. They initiated it in 2005, but mainly because they have played the game differently here. They had been criticised about being too friendly with us in 2005 and have changed their approach. We have copped quite a lot of shit from them in the game. Because of this it would be easy for us to say: "Sod that, we're not going for a drink." But we do, and I'm glad. I have a chat with McGrath, Brett Lee and Michael Hussey for an hour which is pleasant. Underneath, they are a good bunch.
Go out in the afternoon with the intention of getting drunk. After five days of pressure, worry and not sleeping you just go out and get wasted. You drink to celebrate and drink to forget. The single players - me, Jones, Collingwood, Maynard - go out and have a few bottles of wine before kicking on and meeting up with a few others at a bar. By midnight I've had enough.
AND SO TO ADELAIDE... Travelling with a hangover
Travelling days always seem to be done with a hangover. Wake up with a terrible headache and my mood is not helped by the fact that we are made to sit sweating on the tarmac at Brisbane airport for an hour without air-conditioning. On Wednesday evening Duncan Fletcher calls a meeting so that we can get the problems of the first Test out in the open. The management say very little. Quite often it is the senior players who dominate these because we generally have more to say. We get it going but everyone joins in. It is very honest and productive. There is a lot of sense spoken. We identify where we have gone wrong in Brisbane and what we need to get right for Adelaide.
Tours these days give you very little time to get out and see things. I like my wine, particularly reds, and I have a few very pleasant glasses of D'Arenberg "Laughing Magpie" Shiraz at a Vodafone dinner. The wine in and around Adelaide is magnificent so it would be a shame not to try a drop. At the team meeting it is announced that Sajid Mahmood has been added to the Brisbane squad. There is no Monty, so I'm playing.
ADELAIDE, DAY ONE: We have to eat, too
KP and Colly are awesome. Wander across the road to Nando's for some chicken in the evening. It's difficult going out during a Test because there seems to be half the Barmy Army everywhere you go. You try and remain anonymous by keeping your head down and avoiding eye contact but it is not long before someone asks you what you are doing here. I tell them we do have to eat, too.
ADELAIDE, DAY TWO: KP was looking for McGrath
KP is an extraordinary player. He never stops surprising you in the way he plays. People outside the England team knock KP but I get on really well with him. He's different, but he's probably the most professional player in the side, in terms of how he trains and looks after himself. KP forces Warne to bowl round the wicket, into the footholes and he also gets after McGrath. KP goes after every bowler but he seems to be taking on McGrath. He does not want to let him settle.
There aren't many times against Australia when you can relax and enjoy the cricket but this is one of them. I can't relax too much because I have to get my pads on if we lose another wicket but it is satisfying to keep the Aussies in the field for almost two days. It is nice to be able to declare. Often in these situations, when we are looking for quick runs, we lose wickets and it gets a bit mucky. But by declaring at 550 for 6 we have made a statement that we are in control.
ADELAIDE, DAY THREE: 'Well done Giles, you've just dropped the Ashes, mate'
We had spent a lot of time planning the field and I was deliberately placed where I was. We knew Ponting hit the ball a certain distance when he tried to pick it up and that is why I was several yards in from the boundary. Ponting hits the ball at me and I see it all the way. There are no excuses - I catch those. I have one of the safest pair of hands in the team. But it keeps coming and coming at me.
It does not drop at all and it does me for pace. Initially, I think I'll catch it at waist height, then chest height, then all of a sudden it is over my head. Someone told me that it took the ball 1.67 seconds to reach me and it hit my hands hard. TV showed that it almost knocked me back such was its force.
My first thought is: "Bollocks, you don't want to drop Ponting on 40. I hope it doesn't prove too costly." There is a comment from the stands: "Hey Giles, you've just dropped the fucking Ashes, mate." And I keep being reminded for the rest of the day.
"Well done Giles you're on 50 now, mate. Well played." Then it went to 80 and eventually 100: "Well done Gilo, you've got your hundred now."
Bollocks. It's a nightmare but I'm not going to beat myself up about it. Everyone drops catches, but this one has cost us 100 runs. The crowd are terrible but I am a firm believer that if you come through a tour like this with your marbles intact you've done well. If you and the team have success then brilliant. Touring here is a true test of character.
I read in the papers the next day that it was a simple chance. It wasn't a simple chance. It was just one of those moments when, before you know it, the ball is on you and it hits the turf. You can't bring it back - it's gone. I will just spend the next 20 years worrying about it.
ADELAIDE, DAY FOUR: Are we going to get a result out of this?
A bloody hard day. I don't realise Fred's ankle is hurting until we came off at lunchtime and the medical staff are all hovering around him. I didn't know how serious it was (and we still don't, really). I doubt if we would have made the Australians follow on had we been able to and after tea we begin to wonder how we are going to get a result out of this. Only 13 wickets have fallen in 11 sessions but for us there is still a lot of cricket to play. They could put us under pressure if the magician comes out and bowls as he can.
ADELAIDE, DAY FIVE: I had a bad feeling...
I wake up at 7am and the first thing that comes in to my head is that this day might not run as smoothly as we would like. In an effort to just try and forget about the cricket I go to the gym to keep busy. It is one of those situations where most players are thinking it could happen but nobody dares say it.
We start pretty well but then lose two unfortunate wickets. Strauss is unlucky and Belly is run out. We just can't get away from them and our innings is a bit like a kettle about to boil. As a batsman where do you go? Do you dance down the wicket and risk getting stumped or do you stay where you are? We have put teams in similar positions ourselves. Even if you aren't taking wickets the opposition are going nowhere and it only takes one wicket and you're off. We are in that same position. What we need is KP to bat for three quarters of an hour. He would take us out of reach. But he goes and Fred soon follows. Suddenly, we are under the cosh.
It becomes a nerve-racking experience. I am always confident in my batting and I think I can make a difference when I go out after lunch. I think I'll bat for a couple of hours - no problem - but it does not always work out like that. There is a bit going on between Colly and Warney but the Aussies have said very little to me. Nick Warne to slip, shit, what can you do? Harmy and Jimmy Anderson wasted an hour and if we could have batted for another six overs and scored 15 more runs, setting up a chase of 180-odd in 30 overs, we may have got away with it.
We are always up against it. One hundred and sixty-eight is not a lot in these situations. I find it difficult to bowl at Michael Hussey. I want to change my pace and throw the ball in the rough but I am never going to spin the ball like Warne, even though it feels as though I have to.
Shane Warne does not make the life of a spinner easy because you are constantly compared to him. It's unfair. The bloke is a freak. In my eyes he is the best cricketer that has ever played the game, and there's little old me from Surrey with 140 Test wickets being compared to the greatest spinner of all time. I have still got to compete and do my best but I cannot try and be something I am not.
We think we might just have a slight chance when Ponting and Martyn go but the game continues to slip away from us. It's a horrible position to be in - trying your bollocks off with the worst thoughts in the world going through your mind. "How the bloody hell have we got here?" "We've played four good days of cricket and we don't deserve to be here." It is gutting. The dressing room is quiet, a deadly silence apart from the celebrations going on outside. Losing bloody hurts. People must appreciate that.
We go in to the Aussie dressing room again for an hour and a half. A couple of the boys stay there until the early hours. I return to the hotel where a nasty message has been left on my phone. Some bloke says I am a disgrace to my country, that I have cost England the Test and I should bow out gracefully. That was nice. Have a shower, go down to the hotel bar - drink to forget again. The same bloke phones, wakes me up the next morning to apologise for the message. Apology accepted. What can you say? I know people have put in a lot of money to come and watch but we have put in a lot of effort, too. Now we have to get up and go again.
LIFE GOES ON: You shouldn't read the papers...
We practise, train and I wait to see whether my name will be read out at the team meeting next Wednesday. I am two first-class games in to my comeback and I know there will be a push for Monty to play but if I am called to do a job I will, as always, do it the best I can.
You shouldn't read the papers but they are always lying around and you do. You look for your name in the piece, read it and think: "Why did I pick it up?"
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