Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

EXCLUSIVE: Ashley Giles admits ‘it couldn’t have been more stressful’ when he was replaced as one-day coach last year. He tells Richard Edwards he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’

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As a bowler, Ashley Giles was seen as one of the most reliable spinners of his generation. A safe pair of hands.

In the aftermath of last year’s Ashes debacle and a miserable Twenty20 World Cup, though, he was viewed as anything but, as he was overlooked as successor to England coach Andy Flower in favour of Peter Moores.

Now, as often happens in the merry-go-round that is top-level sport, the seat vacated at Lancashire by Moores is occupied by Giles – a man who is keen to look forward after his chastening experience with England.

“I think it was healthy for me to have a break after what had happened – I don’t think I would have been as clear in my mind with Lancashire as I am now,” Giles tells The Independent.

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Giles and his players at training

“Clearly I felt pissed off and was down with it but that’s history now, I’ve got to move on. But at the time it would have been wrong to jump into a new job. I needed some time to reflect and perhaps work out whether I wanted to go back into [the sport]. It couldn’t have been much more stressful.”

It is Moores who is now feeling the weight of expectation as England look to end a 50-over trophy drought dating back 40 years to the first ever World Cup, which was held on home soil in 1975.

At odds of 9-1, Eoin Morgan’s England side are a long shot to break that hoodoo this time around but Giles admits that he will be following the tournament as an interested observer rather than a partisan supporter. “There are moments when I think that ‘I could be there right now’ because at the time, as a team and as the management, we were counting down the days to the first match of the World Cup,” he says.

“What will I be thinking on 14 February when England are in Melbourne playing Australia? Well, actually it’s my daughter’s birthday so I’m over the moon that I’ll be there for her party. It’s one of the bits of the job I certainly don’t miss because you are away from your family a lot.

“Life goes on. I’ll watch the games as an observer, I’ll watch England’s matches because I like watching cricket but there are some guys in that team who I’ve been very close to and some guys who I’m still close to because they’re  Lancashire players.

“But otherwise I don’t really have any feelings about it. I won’t jump up and down if England win and I won’t jump up and down if they  lose either.”

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In truth, there has been precious little for England’s supporters to bounce around celebrating in the one-day game since they reached the final of the last tournament to be held Down Under in 1992. There is a growing sense, however, that a hastily assembled team could spring a few surprises in the coming weeks.

With key players such as Ian Bell, Steven Finn, Jimmy Anderson and Morgan himself running into form just at the right time, Giles believes that this new-found optimism might not be entirely misplaced.

“I don’t think the team are in as bad a spot as people made out before,” he says. “The Sri Lanka series was always going to be a very difficult thing to judge it on because the  conditions are so different and difficult out there.

“Of course it’s not an ideal thing to go into a World Cup with a whole new top three, two of them who have only played a relatively small amount of games, as well as a new captain. But that’s what you’ve got and you’ve got to get on with it. I wouldn’t say we were one of the favourites but there are some good  players in that side.” 

One of those is the pace bowler Finn, who after a traumatic year appears to be refinding his mojo in the very same place where his action disintegrated to such an extent that he was branded “unselectable” by Giles just over a year ago. 

His five-wicket haul as England demolished India in Brisbane last week left the Middlesex man grinning from ear to ear. It also left Giles smiling broadly, too.

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Steven Finn is back in the squad

“It’s fantastic,” says Giles. “He’s a great lad as well. It has been an incredible 12 months for him but to see him do well is great. If you add him to [Stuart] Broad and Anderson and [Chris] Woakes, who’s developing all the time, then that’s a pretty potent attack.

Giles’ own World Cup memories are of a missed opportunity at the 2003 tournament in South Africa, which resulted in England going out in the group stages. He was also a member of the England side that inexplicably lost to the West Indies in the final of the Champions Trophy at The Oval in 2004.

If England are to go one better, then Giles believes that Morgan’s men need to embrace the pressure rather than run from it. “The players should enjoy it because a lot of the time you go into these tournaments worrying about what’s going to happen to your form,” he says. “But you need to relax to a degree and just get on and play your best cricket.”

If that happens then the most unlikely of trophy heists could be on. And Giles might be unable to resist the urge to get off his seat.

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