Giles a maligned odd-job man

The brickbats have hurt, but he remains England's best spinner and an integral part of Team Vaughan

There was a telling moment when Ashley Giles took his second wicket in New Zealand's first innings here. The bowler went into an immediate clinch with his captain, Michael Vaughan. He then went down on one knee, as if in supplication, and pointed jubilantly at his leader and friend.

There was a telling moment when Ashley Giles took his second wicket in New Zealand's first innings here. The bowler went into an immediate clinch with his captain, Michael Vaughan. He then went down on one knee, as if in supplication, and pointed jubilantly at his leader and friend.

It was a scene of unadulterated joy, not often witnessed at the capture of a second wicket in an innings by a bowler, not even when the outgoing batsman has made 108 and has been lured into miscueing a drive to cover. But Giles has been through the mill lately. He is living testimony to the fact that spinners need help.

In the past year or so he has become almost a figure of fun in English cricket, maligned for being the best spinner in England, as if the dearth of slow bowlers was somehow his fault. Wickets have been hard to come by. In nine of the last 20 Test innings in which he has bowled Giles has failed to take a wicket. In Tests overall he has 90 wickets at more than 40 runs apiece.

He has borne the criticism with grace, always aware of his limitations. "It has been a rough old time of late," he said on the night before the expansive exultation of taking Scott Styris's wicket. "I keep going, I've got quite broad shoulders and just get on with it. It's just nice to bowl. When I'm required I will do my job."

For once, in this match, Giles has been allowed to do that job on a pitch granting him a few favours. He has still bowled over the wicket too often for some critics, but in a spell of 16 consecutive overs yesterday he had New Zealand under pressure, and there was evidence of both loop and turn.

Poor Giles has become symptomatic of a deep-rooted malady, which in truth shows no signs of being cured. There are no decent spin bowlers because there are no decent pitches for them on which to bowl.

It is widely held that England will not be a real contender to be the best side in the world until they have a spinner of the highest quality. The theory is tested in practice by courses and schemes and programmes and projects. It is hard to resist the conclusion that there is a lot of spin about spin. In the rest of the world they seem to develop naturally (though India, of all places, does not exactly have a production line).

Yet Giles remains the best of English spinners. At The Oval in the final Test of 1997, Phil Tufnell helped to turn the match on its head by taking 7 for 66 against Australia and four more wickets in the second innings. In seven years and 72 Tests since, Giles is the only spinner to have taken five wickets in an innings, which he has done three times. But a spinner could never be said to have won a game for England in that time.

Giles has doubtless been sustained by the support of his colleagues. He is unquestionably a superb fellow to have in the dressing room, who recognises more than most that cricket is a team sport. He would win many a poll for being the cricketers' cricketer.

Perhaps it helps that Vaughan is his chum as well as his captain. He not only under-stands Giles's role in the side - which is as a support bowler, not a match-winning one - but also takes succour from his presence. Hence the undiluted gladness as Styris went on his way in Nottingham.

Giles has played in the vast majority of England's recent matches, missing out only through sickness or injury, or when a spinner is deemed surplus to requirements. Surprisingly, he has been more often omitted in the one-day game, which says much about England's haphazard, misguided philosophy in the short form of the game.

It irritates the purists that Giles is so often used defensively, bowling over the wicket to curb batsmen, not round it to try to get them out. In the West Indies he was a huge disappointment. He had been out of form, but had come back in Sri Lanka. It was hoped and expected that he would be a handful for West Indies' left-handers, and in those pre-Harmison Age days it was predicted he might end the series as the leading wicket-taker. In three Tests and six innings he took two wickets.

But he has overcome that disappointment, wheeling away against New Zealand this season, usually into the rough. Doing his job. What should really rankle is that there is no serious contender for his place, let alone a potential right-arm partner. The era of John Emburey and Phil Edmonds now seems like a sort of golden age. Two spinners!

Gareth Batty, of Worcestershire (but a Yorkshireman by birth and inclination), is the reserve spinner, and continues to develop neat changes of pace. Robert Dawson, of Yorkshire, took nine wickets in their win over Durham last week. They both have years on their side, but they could bowl forever and not necessarily develop the element of mystery.

The 18-year-old leg-spinner Mark Lawson, also a Yorkshireman, continues to receive plaudits. But it will be intriguing to see what playing on Yorkshire pitches does for his progress. In various leagues, young teenage spinners are creating excitement. But Giles remains the best. He and Vaughan will be locked in tight embrace for a while yet.

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