Bowler's new confidence spins the tables on critics

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The Independent Online

The English bandwagon rolls on. Even though the opposition has at times been distressingly weak, England have now won eight of their last nine Test matches and all of them with impressive conviction. The slightly curious aspect about these first two Tests against the West Indies is that Steve Harmison, their principal executioner, has hardly made a contribution. It was two of the journeymen of the side, Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard who served up the most telling bowling performances.

Giles took a nine-wicket haul at Lord's and picked up another nine at Edgbaston while Hoggard, as a reward for unremitting effort and no little skill, took four wickets at Lord's and finished this match with six against his name. The importance of this is that it means that all the members of the side are chipping in, and this is a sign of England's increasing strength.

Giles is now bowling with more confidence than at any time in his career. He is also finding more variety and, given any help in the pitch, there is now a sharper cutting edge to his bowling. For a while his place has been roundly queried and criticised. It has been no fault of his own that the selectors have rated him as the best spinner in England.

To their credit they have stayed with Giles, although in the early days he had no great successes partly because of the slender opportunities he was given. A couple of overs before an interval, or a longer spell on a plumb pitch against settled batsmen when all else has failed, hardly gives a spinner the confidence or the chance he needs to succeed.

It was as though he was in the side as an insurance policy in the event of a pitch suddenly taking spin and in respect of what was rapidly becoming an old-fashioned idea, of going into a Test match with a balanced attack. Now Giles has proved that they were right about his bowling and he is more than entitled to round on his critics

He is obviously a great team man, which is not the least important aspect of a player's attributes. He first came into the England side in 1998 and over the years he has also worked hard at his batting and has played some important innings for England. The same applies to his fielding too, for constant practice and application have turned him into an excellent gully and a stalwart in the deep, as he has an excellent arm.

Much of this also applies to Hoggard. He is a tireless worker at everything he does. He bowls his heart out at fast medium, his control has improved all the time and when the main strike bowlers have been unable to break through, it has been Hoggard who has done it. He is by no means as plain as is sometimes thought. Like Giles, he has made himself into an excellent fielder and recently he has practised his batting to the extent that he is now more than capable of holding fast at one end, allowing the last remaining batsman to have his head at the other. They have both become important members of this England side.